The following is adapted from Rethinking Hand Safety.
During a visit to a sheet metal manufacturer, I saw that many workers, despite handling sharp edges all day long, weren’t wearing any gloves. While I was there, I actually saw one worker in his mid-fifties get cut on a big piece of metal.
When I asked why he wasn’t wearing gloves, he replied, “I don’t need them. When I get cut, I just use some crazy glue and gaffer tape.” He held up his hands, which were completely covered in scars, calluses, and some burns.
My job is providing companies with proper protective gloves, so when I see workers not wearing their gloves, it’s upsetting. However, I don’t always blame workers for not wearing their gloves. Many times, their gloves are simply too uncomfortable or inconvenient to use.
You can buy the best gloves in the world, but they’re worthless if no one uses them. If you want your workers to actually wear their gloves, you need to pay attention to two often-overlooked factors in glove selection: the hassle factor and the discomfort factor.
THE HASSLE FACTOR
When it comes to safety, hassle matters—a lot more than you think.
One of our clients realized his company was spending a lot on gloves, so he made a process change. Instead of putting out boxes of new gloves, ready for the taking, he made employees go ask their supervisors when they needed a new pair.
Hand injury rates shot up immediately. So did costs, thanks to increased medical expenses, lost time, and insurance rates. A year later, management gave up on the policy and started putting out big boxes of gloves again, all around the manufacturing floor.
People will tolerate only so much hassle. When gloves become too inconvenient, workers will simply go without. Instead of blaming workers, seek to eliminate as much hassle as possible.
By placing a barrel full of gloves five feet away instead of twenty feet away from workers, you can lower injury rates.
By hanging specialized gloves on glove boards, clearly labeled by task, workers might choose the correct glove 90 percent more often.
By providing clips for workers to keep their gloves hanging from their belts when not being used, easily accessible, you may increase glove use by a factor of ten.
THE DISCOMFORT FACTOR
One of my safety consultants spent a day observing at a client’s factory. Again and again, she saw one astonishing behavior: Workers were taking off their gloves to perform their tasks, then putting the gloves back on afterward.
Why? Because the gloves were hot, sweaty, and too bulky for the task. Probably, the workers weren’t even thinking about the absurdity of their action—it was just automatic because the gloves were uncomfortable.
Every safety manager must ask themselves—or actually, ask the workers: Beyond the hassle, how much discomfort will a person bear to be safe doing this job?
Comfortable gloves are gloves that aren’t too bulky or too hot for the climate. They’re gloves that get replaced or laundered regularly so they don’t smell. They’re gloves that provide the appropriate level of protection instead of being overkill just to cover the ass of management.
EASE AND COMFORT
Remember: gloves provide absolutely no protection if they are not worn.
When providing gloves to your workers, you absolutely want to make sure that the gloves provide adequate protection against all the other dangers your workers will encounter. But just as important, you must make sure the gloves are easy to access and comfortable to wear.
Training matters in both discomfort and in hassle, of course. Psychologies can be shifted. Ultimately, however, it’s the job of management to provide equipment people will actually use. If your workers aren’t wearing their gloves, it’s your job to do something about it. Instead of banging your head against the wall trying to force workers to wear inconvenient, uncomfortable gloves, simply make the gloves more comfortable and convenient to wear.
For more advice on hand protection, you can find Rethinking Hand Safety on Amazon.