Safety first-hand

ENSURING THAT HAND AND ARM PROTECTION IS NOT SIMPLY OFF-THE-CUFF

Gloves are said to have been around since the ice age. Cavemen have depicted such in their rock art and drawings. They have been used throughout the centuries for reasons aplenty such as fashion, status, and of course, to provide protection.

If you’re happy and you know it

Palms across the universe high-fived as hands rejoiced when the necessity for the consistent application of a 70 percent plus, alcohol-based sanitiser, faded into the background as the world got to grips in controlling the COVID virus.

Inarguably, hand sanitiser proved to be a winner in the prevention of controlling the transmission of this deadly virus. However, it did not ease our woes in the red, dry and cracked skin department, specifically targeted to our hands.

The negative effects of the sanitiser on human skin was pale in comparison to the other risks and losses that COVID brought to each and every one of our kitchens or dining room tables, but our hands were weary from the abuse.

Eventually, the race to purchase sanitiser was rivalled with a valuable competitor, hand lotion. Scores of complaints were being reported with regards to the negative effects. The copious amounts of alcohol being used in this intensity, caused some people to develop dry and cracked skin leading to bacterial infections. Cases of eczema being aggravated by the alcohol, increased too. Some people opted to simply stop using sanitiser for the reasons above.

Safety First-Hand

The demand for a new, skin friendly version of the virus killer increased. 

Entrepreneurs jumped on the band wagon to create extra nourishing lotions which would counteract the consequences that had since evolved. 

"gloves are often the best form of defence available to provide protection to hands"

Magic potions were in production in many households and gifted out to friends and family. Secret ingredients ranging from tea tree to turmeric were vital components to offset the abuse of the sanitiser.

When we were in the boxing ring with a terrifyingly fatal virus, we still took the time, to consider our hands.

A few of our favourite things

Is there anything better than putting your hands into a pair of soft, warm woollen gloves (or mittens!) on a cold winter morning?

In terms of providing refuge, gloves are often one of the most common go-to’s when attempting to protect one’s hands. 

At the workplace, gloves are utilised as a defence against many different hazards. The fact is, is that personal protective equipment (PPE) must only
be utilised as the last form of defence against hazards. 

There are obviously work methods available, industry dependant, that may reduce the risk of hand injury or exposure. However, this being said, gloves are often the best form of defence available to provide protection to hands.

Flash in the pan

Hot work, such as welding, demands a specific type of hand protection. 

The nature of the welding to be performed and the corresponding risk assessment, will dictate the type of hand and arm protection required.

Safety First-Hand

To provide a distinction between the different processes, two separate types of welding are listed below. A brief description of each process is provided to clarify the type of protection best suited for the method. 

Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)

This choice of welding involves an electric arc forming between an electrode in the form of wire and the base metal (the actual workpiece). This process causes the metal to heat and then results in fusion. A shielding gas is used to safeguard against any possible atmospheric contaminants. 

This process involves a lot of heat. Depending on circumstances, often preheating is required which involves heating the base metal and results in the Welder being exposed to radiant heat along with the actual heat of the process itself.

"skin exposed to UV radiation produced from welding arc is similar to exposure to the sun"

Thick, long leather welding gloves are advised for this type of welding, ensuring that the welder wears an assortment of additional PPE in order to protect himself against the heat. Hands and wrists obviously have a front row seat in terms of exposure to this heat and require protecting in earnest. 

Skin unprotected from UV radiation produced from welding arc will result in a similar situation to that of being exposed to the sun. And similarly, this type of exposure over the long term will result in skin cancer. Good quality overalls and often, a leather jacket of sorts, (a bunny style leather jacket for hotter climates) will assist in protecting arms, wrists, and hands during the process.

Gas Tungsten Arc Welding

Often considered the ‘Shiz-Biz’ of all the welding processes, those who perform this process well, are a sought-after commodity in themselves. This welding has a higher level of difficulty than others and is therefore somewhat of a slower process. The arc weld uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to yield the weld. 

An inert shielding gas is used such as argon or helium to protect against the possible contaminants. A constant current of power is supplied to provide electrical energy and without getting too deep into technical territory, it is overall, a cleaner process than the others.

Safety First-Hand

Less heat, less smoke, just jolly difficult to master (apparently!). The precision and control that the welder yields over this welding process requires a glove with less restrictive qualities and although the UV exposure is still present, this welder would be provided with a thinner style of leather glove often produced from goat or pig skin. Obviously, with the heat and UV still being present, arms and hands do have to be protected, however, one has to allow the welder to ‘feel’ his way through the process. Although a shorter glove is at play here, the cuffs should be able to adequately protect the wrists.

Cultivate cultural cognisance

An interesting note at this point would be to consider the culture, possibly even the religious standpoint of the welder, to whom the gloves are to be issued. 

Some time back in my career as a safety professional, working in the manufacturing industry, there was a distinct shortage of welders able to perform this type of welding. 

In order to meet the demands of the company, we hired in contract welders who originated from afar. They were experts in this field and were taken into our employ to assist with the massive workload we had at that time. With the inductions and risk assessment communication complete (through the assistance of an interpreter) the Contractors were accompanied to the store in order to collect their PPE.

"the welders’ arms were physically taking strain from the heat, causing them to have to work in awkward positions"

On arrival for the receipt of the PPE, the welders were noticeably shocked on realising that our store had stockpiled pig skin leather gloves, all ready to issue for this work. Due to religious beliefs, they did not feel comfortable with the gloves made from this animal. We obviously obliged and ordered gloves made from goat skin for the work, with which they were content. However, it was not considered up until this moment that the gloves may be deemed unsuitable. On reflection, it was somewhat a significant oversight during the planning phase of selection and recruitment of these welders. 

Brotherhood of the travelling sleeves

On a specific, large scale welding project on which I was involved, the pre-heating on the job to be welded was pretty intense. If I correctly recall, the temperature for the metal to be preheated was around 107°C. The radiant heat emitted from the work piece was causing all kinds of problems in that the welders’ arms were physically taking strain from the heat, causing them to have to work in awkward positions to avoid ‘head on exposure’.

Safety First-Hand

Although they were wearing their full PPE, long sleeve cotton shirts beneath their overalls, it was providing little relief. The positions they were attempting to assume to avoid the onslaught of the radiant heat (although direct burns were not occurring as yet), was not only obviously affecting their comfort and wellbeing but the quality of the weld too. 

A plan had to be made and quickly. After chatting to a couple of colleagues in similar undertakings, a project manager sourced heat resistant sleeves to be worn under the welding gloves. 

A tube-like item of clothing, the sleeves slipped over the wrist, covering the forearms with their heat resistant material. It appeared as though the problem had been solved. 

Unfortunately, although effective for a couple of hours, due to the fact that the sleeves were not held in place by anything in particular, as the Welders started working, assuming positions, moving their arms (as one does) they ended up slipping up and down, under the welding gloves, basically not doing much to improve matters. 

Research pursued, as by this time, it was common knowledge that our competitors had successfully used similar sleeves for this type of application. A day or two later we had finally nailed it, replacement sleeves were sourced and ordered, with specifications that were comparable to the previous. One major difference was in the design of the sleeve. The end of the sleeve that slipped over the hand, sported a ‘thumb hole’ of sorts that provided an ‘anchor point’ for the sleeve. 

"the emphasis placed on the effects of chemicals on the body has come along in leaps and bounds"

This seemingly insignificant feature changed the game as it prevented the sleeve from slipping all the way up the arm and secured the sleeve under glove. Since the sleeve was now staying put and no longer running amok, up, down and 360° around the wrist, forearm, and elbow... it was finally doing its job in protecting mainly, the softer flesh of the area under the forearm and the welding commenced comfortably and without quality concerns. 

When you’re NOT looking for Chemistry

In terms of protection against hazardous chemical substances, there is probably no other subcategory of PPE, that has been privy to more research and development over the past few years.

Safety First-Hand

The emphasis that has been placed on the effects of hazardous chemicals on the human body has come along in leaps and bounds as diseases and long-term exposure results and reports have been peppered with concerns and bad news. 

In order to be negatively impacted by any chemical, it has to enter one’s body. 

There are four ways in which this occurs.

Inhalation: This occurs through breathing in the chemical fumes or mist. The chemical makes contact with the lungs and absorbs into the body. Once in the lungs, the chemical effects are free to travel through the blood system.

Ingestion: Through swallowing the chemical it travels through the digestive system.

Absorption: Through the skin or eyes. Additional care should be taken when there are cuts or lacerations present on the skin, this obviously complicates matters related to absorption aspect.

Injecting: Through needles, into the bloodstream. 

For the purpose of this article, we are going to concern ourselves with the method of Absorption. These are methods to prevent chemicals from entering our bodies and bloodstreams through skin exposure and, to eliminate the external reaction and consequences that direct exposure would have on the skin.

Often in industry as a safety professional, it is common for one’s ears to prick up and to sit up and listen when Hazardous Chemical Agents (as it is now referred in Regulations contained in the South African Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993) such as phosphoric acid, ammonia and hydrofluoric acid are mentioned for possible use. 

I recall a time when the company for whom I was working had to make use of a specific kind of passivation and pickling paste for a stainless-steel application. On conducting my research into the chemical composition of such, the employees were donned in PPE that resembled a mission to the moon. I was taking no chances.

However, with the simpler, more familiar type substances, we often fail to justify these with the attention they may deserve.

The type of hand protection we seek for protection against chemical use depends solely on the nature of the chemical.

Safety First-Hand

Being based in manufacturing and engineering for more years than I care to remember, my work environment rarely challenges me with chemicals as such but rather the hazardous agents related to welding, grinding and the like. My top headache with regards to this being paint and thinner related substances.

"the employees were donned in PPE that resembled a mission to the moon"

However, when the opportunity presents itself, I do have to get pretty hands on, pretty quickly. As my experience is not excessive in chemical handling, my first port of call to ensure I select the correct PPE, including gloves, is usually to determine if the chemical is organic or inorganic.

What is the difference between organic and inorganic compounds? Basically, in layman’s terms, these two compounds form the primary foundation of chemistry. Generally speaking, organic compounds contain carbon whilst Inorganic compounds, do not. 

Organic solvents are more volatile and flammable than their inorganic counterpart. Organic solvents can be carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Inorganic substances are generally strong acids and include substances such as ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and hydrofluoric acid.

Once you have this figured out, it becomes easier to determine the type of protection required. 

Other important factors to consider when selecting chemical gloves is as follows.

The Degradation rating: This rating explains the gloves’ handling if you will in terms of the chemical to be used. Will the material crack, swell, shrink? 

The rate of Permeation: At what rate the chemical used to test the glove penetrates once breakthrough has occurred. 

The Breakthrough time: The time measured from when the chemical arrives on the outside of the glove and makes it through to the inside. 

Pause, rewind and hand me the remote

So fair enough, we have established that an assortment of gloves and various forms of arm protection are often the only control measures available to ensure that injury does not incur. 

Safety First-Hand

You cannot argue, how else to remove a steaming hot cottage pie from the oven other than with a sturdy pair of oven gloves?

What alternative method can one use to protect fingers against paper cuts at the office when performing copious amounts of filing, other than a couple of rubber fingerettes? 

What choice of defence, could rival that offered by the protection for seamstresses across the globe, against sharp needles, other than the humble, old fashioned, thimble? 

Let’s face facts in that the common thimble has had little competition in protecting fingertips against sharps for the last 30,000 years. Thimbles were thrust into being as the Mammoth Hunters realised they needed a source of protection when ‘sewing’ various odds and ends onto leather hides. At the time, the ‘needles’ used were probably robust items, possibly carved from bone, that would have resulted in a nasty laceration or two to ones’ hands and fingers if working prolonged hours on this laborious task. 

"all the hand protection in the universe is not comparable to a positive safety culture"

So yes, there are age old methods and equipment that have been tried and tested in providing adequate protection against specific hazards to hands and arms. Most of them work well and there is little reason to change other than the fact that technology is constantly improving and there may be a couple of advances or new advantages in terms of materials or design.

This being said, in my experience some of the worst accidents I have witnessed regarding hands and fingers have been either with the suitable gloves in place or, had the injured been wearing such, it would have made little difference.

Hands down, prevention is best

When all is said and done, PPE, tried and tested, there is a valid reason why PPE is considered the last option that forms part of the hierarchy of controls. 

Pinch points are one of the most common causes of hand injuries. Not only a frequent occurrence, but the severity of such injuries can be intense. 

I had the misfortune of experiencing these situations first hand. 

A Rigger, wearing his prescribed gloves, lost a finger when a chain jumped from position due to an uneven surface on the work piece he was lifting. His hand, in the line-of-fire at the time, and the finger, gone.

Another example, a Fitter fully compliant with the glove wearing requirement, placed his hand in between a large hinge of sorts (similar to a door mechanism) that was keeping a steel plate in position. As he was lifting the work piece from a horizontal into a vertical position. The plate slammed shut and caught his finger in-between the hinge mechanism. A complicated fracture ensued.

Employees must be equipped with the knowledge and foresight to identify potential hazards and understand the significance of doing so, they need to stick to the safety rules and understand they are there for a reason. A culture of accountability should be nurtured and fostered.

All the hand protection in the universe is not comparable to forward thinking, pro-active and committed employees who strive to develop and actually celebrate, a positive safety culture.


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