Modern plant workers are masters at multitasking – they work on assembly lines, pack materials and record data on a keyboard.
With the level of global competition in today's marketplace, many workers feel the pressure of productivity quotas requiring them to execute tasks quickly and confidently – even in the presence of potential hazards such as cutting tools and sharp metal edges.
Employees must have work gloves that protect yet enhance their ability to perform their jobs. A plant walk-through may verify that some workers are still wearing the leather and heavy cotton gloves they have always worn in the past.
While these materials provide some degree of protection, they often fall short in their ability to protect the hands against risks associated with hand tools and sharp materials. They also lack the dexterity and tactility workers need to efficiently perform a variety of tasks.
New glove technology is helping to bridge the gap by offering the cut protection previously associated with heavier work gloves. The new hand protection also provides the comfort and dexterity required to boost worker productivity and overall performance.
The comfort factor
Preventing hand injuries, however, goes beyond providing employees with work gloves that protect against hazards such as cuts. Work gloves must be comfortable enough that workers want to wear them for the duration of their shift.
According to the BLS, 30 per cent of all lost time hand injuries result from workers wearing inadequate hand protection, with the remaining 70 per cent occurring because workers do not wear their gloves. Even when work gloves provide high levels of protection, workers are unlikely to wear them for extended periods if the gloves are uncomfortable or hinder their ability to do their jobs.
Ansell conducted research that confirmed some workers are willing to sacrifice protection in favour of comfort and dexterity. In cases where work gloves were too tight or affected tactility, workers altered the product by removing the fabric over the fingertips or clipping the wrists. Some employees removed their gloves entirely or replaced them with hand protection they perceived as more comfortable.
Management at a major chemical company learned that employees were bringing their own gloves to work because they felt the hand protection the company supplied was uncomfortable. Workers selected a popular glove brand recognised for its comfort and visual appeal that they purchased at a local retailer. The problem was the new gloves did not provide the chemical protection workers needed and resulted in injuries.
Many factors impact worker comfort, including dexterity, tactility and fit. Gloves made with lightweight fabric or designed to provide extra room across the back of the hands promote dexterity by allowing the hands to move freely without restriction. Thin coatings such as polyurethane or nitrile applied to thin, seamless liners constructed of nylon, Lycra, or new Dyneema Diamond Technology fibre promote tactility in the fingertips, increasing workers' ability to handle ultra fine objects efficiently.
All work gloves should fit and function like a second skin – neither too large, which can interfere with hand movement or become caught in machinery, nor too small, which can constrict hand movements and result in perspiration and fatigue. Many top glove brands offer products in a range of sizes to accommodate almost any worker.
Hand protection for today's plant environments
Based on the rate of injuries and increasing emphasis on worker productivity, Ansell conducted global research to identify unmet hand protection needs within the manufacturing industry. Worker feedback demonstrated a demand for lighter weight, cut resistant gloves that provide a high level of protection without sacrificing performance. In essence, employees wanted work gloves that protect against cuts yet supply the same level of comfort, dexterity and tactility that is possible when working barehanded.
Ansell responded with the development of ultralight duty HyFlex 11-518 gloves, with an ultra lightweight 18-gauge seamless liner offering barehand-like sensation and comfort. Combining strong 220 denier Dyneema Diamond Technology yarn, nylon and spandex into a sheer, breathable liner, HyFlex 11-518 gloves are the first hand protection product to provide ANSI Level 2 cut protection in a cool, ultra thin product that replaces the more mature range of 13-gauge cut resistant gloves.
The gloves' palm-dipped polyurethane coating ensures the high levels of dexterity and tactility workers require for fine dedicated tasks in risk applications such as wire assembly and fastening, machining and final assembly. The tough, thin coating contributes to the ANSI Level 3 abrasion resistance rating and extends product wear life for an overall lower cost of ownership.
D3 pinky knitting ensures a tailored fit at the base of the pinky finger and helps match the natural contour of the hand. HyFlex 11-518 gloves are offered in sizes 6 to 11.
Field trials conducted in production and packaging environments confirmed that nearly 70 per cent of workers preferred the HyFlex 11-518 gloves for tasks previously requiring heavier gloves. Individuals liked the fact they could wear the same glove for a range of cut and non-cut applications, which resulted in greater productivity.
Workers at a recreation equipment manufacturer were working bare-handed to assemble small parts kits for the production line. In one instance, a worker was cut on a part's sharp edge, so the Safety Director implemented a requirement for workers to use gloves. They tried many cut & sewn, nylon-lined, synthetic-coated products that did not provide the necessary cut resistance, comfort, dexterity and tactility to do the job.
The workers were introduced to the HyFlex 11-518 and were amazed at the comfort, dexterity and added cut protection the glove provided. In fact, because the trial was so successful, the Safety Director recommended workers on the main production line switch from their existing glove, a nylon-lined, rubber-coated glove, to the HyFlex 11-518. The production workers commented that they could do their job just as effectively, but with the peace of mind of the added protection.
New technology is resulting in hand protection that provides the cut protection and flexibility workers need to perform tasks inherent to today's fast-paced manufacturing environment. Workers who have used leather and cotton gloves for many years, however, may be reluctant to wear the new products – often because they do not understand how thin, comfortable gloves can provide the protection they require.
Education is essential to communicate product features, performance advantages and intended applications. Product trial also allows workers to compare new gloves to the products they previously wore and encourages acceptance – and compliance.