In a world increasingly reliant on automation within the manufacturing sector, workers’ hands still play an essential role. John Lambeth, Group Technical Manager of hand and arm protection specialists Unigloves, explains how health and safety managers need to take a multi-layered approach to provide hand protection solutions that workers will embrace.
The hands are an engineering masterpiece – an incredibly complex structure capable of highly precise touch, feel and grip. Comprising 34 muscles, 27 bones, 48 named nerves and at least 123 ligaments in each hand, there are also 17,000 touch receptors and nerve endings found in the palms, designed to pass on vital sensations of pressure, vibration and movement.
About a quarter of the motor cortex in the human brain is devoted to controlling hand muscles alone. But they are vulnerable to the risks posed in manufacturing environments – only protected by a very thin layer of skin, fat and muscle.
Still work to be done
According to the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, released in November 2022, there were an estimated 54,000 workers in the manufacturing sector who sustained an injury at work, 26% of these cases resulting in absence from work of over seven days.
Of those, almost 15,000 were injuries to the hands. In addition, it was reported that parts of the manufacturing sector, including chemicals, basic metals and fabricated metal products, had rates of contact dermatitis at least three times the industry average.
Workers’ hands will be exposed to multiple risks, including cuts, impacts, abrasions, burns, chemicals and temperature changes.
When it comes to hand protection, considerations should include the following:
Different glove materials will offer different types of protection – so it is important to select the right material for the kind of hazards (or combination of hazards) the hands are likely to come into contact with including.
NRL (natural rubber latex) offers good elasticity and stretch attributes and good abrasion resistance. It provides the best overall dry grip of any coating, especially when processed with a textured latex palm. It offers good durability and strength and can withstand extreme temperatures (environmental). Latex is not breathable, however, and some users are allergic to it.
Nitrile creates a tough coating that provides excellent abrasion and puncture resistance, standing up well to oil, grease and chemicals – generally finished with an embossed palm finish to aid grip.
Double dipped nitrile provides extra durability, liquid and abrasion resistance thanks to the double dipping. The first dip repels oil to keep hands dry, whilst the second dip limits the ingress of liquids, keeping the glove in more contact with the object being gripped.
PU, Polyurethane, is the lightest, softest, and most flexible of the coating choices. It is durable, offering the best dexterity and tactile sensitivity – offering good comfort and grip.
When it comes to hand protection, the gloves selected must have been tested and certified against the hazard/hazards you are looking to protect workers against.
European Union Regulation 2016/425 and the UKCA marking specifies the basic requirements, identifies hazards, determines the marking process and acts as a framework for using the harmonised European & UK Standards to assess the level of glove performance according to the type of hazard.
Core European Standards that relate to hand protection include:
– EN ISO 21420 General Requirements
– EN374 Chemicals and Micro-organisms
– EN388 Mechanical Hazards
– EN407 Thermal
– EN511 Cold
– EN60903 High Voltage
If you are unsure whether the glove/gloves you are considering provides the right levels of protection, consult a specialist hand protection manufacturer to help gain clarification.
Comfort, grip performance
Wider hand protection selection features should also extend to comfort, grip and performance.
With gloves often worn for long periods, comfort is vital. If a glove is too tight, ill-fitting, or uncomfortable, the risk of workers either not wearing the glove or removing it when at work increases.
The grip performance provided by a glove can be all too easily overlooked. A glove without the correct grip performance can increase the risk of injury to the wearer with grip requirements determined by the environment.
Will the environment and or the materials being handled be wet or oily increasing slip risk, or will the environment change from wet to dry as a result of the task being carried out?
Different grip finishes, including raised diamond, roughened, patterned, smooth, and foam, provide different performances.
An effective hand and arm protection programme includes much more than just physical protection. It takes a multi-layered approach.