In the last ten years the mining industry has become very diligent about requiring gloves for tasks. In most cases, staff can choose from a wide variety of glove options, all providing good to excellent cut and puncture resistance for the most common hazards. The industry has seen a commensurate reduction in minor hand injuries as a result.
But what of heavier hazards? Especially around reverse-circulation and rotary-type drills, suspended loads are heavy and often must be maneuvered in close quarters. There are "driller's gloves" that claim to be suited for these tasks and some are.
Specialty driller's gloves were produced, promising fewer injuries and better grip. They certainly looked formidable, but how much protection did they offer and at what cost to manual dexterity? In many cases we found that heavy gloves were necessary only for limited tasks and those limited tasks did not require great dexterity. This allowed us to mandate the use of heavy gloves as appropriate without engaging on the dexterity issues. Crews are encouraged to change gloves for more dexterous tasks.
Any discussion of PPE must start with a task risk assessment or observation, followed by application of the hierarchy of controls for each step. Many of the conditions we once accepted as the way things were done have disappeared as guarding, communications and system checks have been added to the process.
The hierarchy of controls must include strong procedural and administrative controls for those tasks that cannot be eliminated. Your workers must know the requirements and the reasons for those requirements. The use of mandated safety gear must be supported and enforced by every worker, with audits and support from the safety group to ensure compliance. This article will describe desirable glove qualities for remaining hazards.
So, what qualities and capabilities matter to your users?
Colour: high-visibility colors are the only logical choice for heavy gloves. Gloves are being used as a last line of defense in a critical task. Awareness is the basis for physical protection. Give your users a chance to build awareness around where hands and fingers are in a given task. In addition to high visibilty colors, we trained that in a two-man team, each worker watched the hands of the other. The person with hands in the danger zone was watching the operator's hands to make sure no controls were in operation. The operator watched the worker's hands to make sure they were clear before operating. High visibility colors made this awareness easier.
Grip: Most heavy gloves are available with a variety of grip material from heavy cotton to leather. Including your workers in your risk assessment will point to the type of grip material best for the task you are evaluating. Remember to ask about grip conditions several hours into a shift. How does a material stand up to exposure to water, oil, grease or mud? How often should gloves be changed?
Padding: Padding choices in heavy gloves seem weighted toward knuckle-skinning hazards. While this is a reasonable protection for mechanic gloves, where there is a crushing hazard look for wrap-around padding that can distribute the force around the fingers. One manufacturer demonstrates this by encouraging customers to put their hand inside a glove then strike it with a mallet. Do not try this with knuckle-guard-only gloves! Where a large pad on the back of the hand may distribute force across the back of the hand to reduce injury, knuckle guards are too small to effectively distribute force across a larger area.
Again, return to your risk assessment. If the hazard is skinned knuckles, guard against that. If the hazard is a crushing injury, make sure the glove pads can distribute the force.
Fit: every glove is most effective when it fits best and most likely to be used when that fit is comfortable. Involve your users in determining the range of sizes to stock and don't be afraid to give those with much larger or much smaller hands their own supply of appropriately-sized gloves. A glove left on the workbench helps no one.
Insulation: If a worker is wearing gloves to keep his hands warm, it will be hard to ask him to don cold heavy gloves for a task in cold weather or wet gloves. Change gloves with the seasons to assure use and keep enough on hand that employees can change them out when saturated.
Gloves are not cheap and heavy gloves are amongst the more expensive gloves. They are worth the expense when you are confident they provide the protection you want your workers to have. Training employees to use them appropriately will provide better protection for workers.
Keeping a bucket of soapy water available for saturated gloves provides a place to put dirty gloves during the shift. During cleanup, the gloves and water can be agitated to clean them then the gloves can be laid out to dry for use the next day.
Like all PPE, gloves are a last line of defense. Though we invest in gloves, we should all be spending much more time evaluating tasks and applying the hierarchy of controls to ensure we don't need that last line of defense for any of our PPE.