By Brian Perry,
Director, Business Development – Industrial
Ansell Protective Products Inc.
Want to know if the gloves you supply workers provide them enough dexterity to do their jobs? Take a walk through the plant. Workers with gloves that provide sufficient dexterity are likely wearing them and performing a variety of tasks—they’re productive and compliant.
Individuals with hand protection that lacks dexterity have probably removed their gloves, preferring to work barehanded. These workers are not only non-compliant, but they expose themselves to any number of job-related risks They also waste valuable time donning and removing their hand protection, which can impact productivity and the bottom line
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), U.S. manufacturing output rose 16 percent between 2000 and 2010—despite the Great Recession and the disappearance of some manufacturing industries. A recent article in Washington Monthly suggests combining this figure with the sharp drop in employment implies manufacturing productivity actually rose 74 percent during that decade.
With no let up in sight, workers must be able to keep pace with productivity expectations in a highly competitive global marketplace. Providing employees work gloves with adequate dexterity and flexibility can help them meet mounting performance demands.
Dexterity enhances movement
Dexterity is a fine motor skill involving the refined use of the small muscles that control the hand, fingers and thumb. Workers who have sufficient dexterity are able to move their hands freely and comfortably without restriction or the burden of too much bulk in their hand protection product.
Dexterity is especially important for plant workers who perform many tasks within the span of their 8- or 12-hour shifts, all with varying hazards and performance requirements. Workers on a production line at an original equipment manufacturer, for example, handle various small parts, manipulating and inserting them into a product before they move to a keyboard to record their progress. Warehouse workers employ a blade to open boxes; they remove materials, check them in on a computer and place them in storage.
In both applications, workers must have sufficient flexibility to move seamlessly from one task to the next while wearing the same hand protection. In the warehouse application, workers require dexterity and cut protection, the latter to shield them from the blade they use to open boxes and from the cardboard box edges.
Dexterity is closely related to tactility and grip. Tactility refers to the touch sensation in the fingertips that allows workers to efficiently handle fine parts and small hand tools, such as screwdrivers. Gloves that improve tactility also benefit workers who use a pen or keyboard to record data.
Grip is a factor for individuals who work in facilities such as metal fabricating plants where they must be able to securely grasp sheets of steel and guide them into a press. Workers who fear dropping objects may apply 30 to 40 percent more grip force than what is required to prevent an object from slipping, This extra force, over time, can result in musculoskeletal disorders such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The problem is exacerbated when objects are wet or oily.
Workers demand task appropriate hand protection
Recent Ansell-sponsored research confirmed workers are willing to alter their work gloves substantially or remove them entirely if the product does not provide sufficient levels of comfort and dexterity—even at the risk of injury.
Workers at a small appliance manufacturer performed a variety of tasks ranging from wiring parts in and around sharp-edged metal to using small hand tools. The cut and sewn hand protection they wore did not provide the dexterity and tactile sensitivity required to perform the wiring task, which led workers to cut the fingertips off their gloves.
While this alteration allowed them to perform the wire task, they began suffering incidental cuts and scrapes from the sharp metal. The employer supplied a seamless knit glove that provided a barehand-like sensation and enabled workers to perform the wiring task without altering their hand protection. This change resulted in a 58 percent reduction in non-recordable injuries.
New technology meets worker requirements
New materials and design technology enable glove manufacturers to respond to worker needs within a rapidly changing workplace. Engineered yarns made from DuPont™ Kevlar®, Dyneema® and new 220 denier Dyneema® Diamond Technology fibers boost work glove comfort and functionality—and improve worker confidence.
Gloves that incorporate Dyneema® Diamond Technology fibers, for example, are ultra lightweight yet offer tremendous strength and protection against cuts. They also ensure a high level of dexterity and tactility similar to what workers would experience if they labored barehanded.
Advancements in knitting technology allow manufacturers to vary the density and stitching tension in areas where workers need more room, such as across the knuckles and the back of the hand. Varied stitching releases tension in high stress zones and ensures a more ergonomic fit, reducing hand fatigue and the likelihood of repetitive motion injuries.
Engineered coatings—such as polyurethane—and roughened surfaces in the fingertips and palm enhance grip and tactility. Fabrics that wick moisture away keep the hands dry and comfortable, ensuring greater dexterity and tactile sensitivity and reducing the likelihood of workers dropping parts.
Success depends on product trial
Workers may not recognize dexterity as a performance characteristic they require to do their jobs. But, they are likely to alter their gloves or remove them entirely if the glove product does not provide the flexibility they need to perform a variety of tasks.