THE ULTIMATE SAFETY ANTHOLOGY A PERSPECTIVE-SHIFTING COLLECTION OF ARTICLES THAT CHALLENGE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ON HAND SAFETY AND KEEPING WORKERS SAFE
CONTENTS The Role of Mindfulness in Work Safety In Safety Training, Boring = Failure 4 Steps to Choose a Proper Work Safety Glove 5 Strategies to Create Safer Work Environments 7 Cognitive Biases That Lead to Unsafe Work 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing Work Safety Gloves A Requirements Checklist for Work Safety Gloves How to Get Workers to Actually Wear Their Protective Gloves
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“Every day, every hour, someone trying to earn a living injures a hand - bones crushed, fingers lost, skin burned, or a whole hand dismembered in a way that could
have been prevented.” Rethinking Hand Safety
THE ROLE OF MINDFULNESS INWORK SAFETY
You take your eyes off the saw for a moment, and suddenly you lose a finger.
Your mind wanders to your plans for the weekend, and you spill a harsh chemical on your leg.
You zone out while repeating the same task for the hundredth time, and your hand gets caught in the machine.
All it takes for disaster to strike is a moment of inattention.
Nothing is more important to safety than paying attention, but nothing is more difficult to train for or control. We are constantly bombarded by internal and external distractions, from the sensory (loud radios, the bright new hunting cap a coworker decided to wear, a strong smell) to the emotional (the fight we had with a spouse, worries about job security, anger about a reprimand). The solution is mindfulness. By teaching mindfulness, you can help your workers stay in the present moment, pay attention, and prevent accidents from occurring.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness is the New Age term for paying attention.
Why would a new term be needed? Because mindfulness is a much broader concept. To be safe, you need to do more than pay attention to the task at hand; you need to be mindful of the overall situation around you. You need to be mindful of your own state of health, the time of day, and the safety cues in your immediate environment. Mindfulness implies that a worker is trying to stay in the present tense. Soldiers, emergency responders, and others who must make split-second decisions call it situational awareness. Whatever you call it, it means the mind is not reliving the past or anticipating the future. It means the mind is undistracted by emotional narratives and
actively shutting out sensory distractions. It’s right “here.”
What are other people doing in your immediate area? What is the state of cleanliness of the work space? What hidden danger is represented by the fact that you did have an argument with your spouse, that you are worried about your job security? Do you need to slow down your work because your focus is waning as it gets closer to lunch hour (studies have shown that in some settings, hand injuries spike between 10-11 a.m.) or because you are on the night shift?
A MINDFULNESS EXERCISE
Mindfulness often makes sense to people in theory, but they struggle with putting it into practice. How can workers be taught to prepare their minds for safe work? Would your workers even be open to a “touchy feely” program like this? Here’s an exercise which you can modify for your particular circumstances. This kind of training might be more acceptable to your workers if it takes place in a training environment like a classroom, but it will be most effective at the worksite. Maybe do a prep in the classroom, then repeat the exercise at the worksite? Figure out what works for your people, as every group is different. First, before beginning their shift, ask workers to take a calming breath and try to relax their minds from worry and distractions—bringing themselves into the present moment. Ask them to close their eyes and focus for a moment simply on their breathing. Beyond their breathing, workers can then expand their attention to become aware of their environment: the traffic zooming by their worksite, the forklifts in motion, the other workers, the way the tools are laid out, the way their gloves feel, the time of day. Next, ask workers to imagine doing their task in the best and safest manner, actually running through all the steps ahead of time in their minds. Tell them that athletes like tennis players and pole vaulters and swimmers do this every single time before they compete. Tell the workers they are athletes too. As they do this, their minds will run through the dangers, automatically—not in fear, but in a calm, controlled way.
Then, if possible, have workers physically do the safe motions, over and over, to develop “muscle memory.”
All along, tell them that the goal is to maintain a clear mind which is calm and aware and not lulled into dangerous inattention. It can help to go back to bringing attention to their breath throughout the workday. This centers the mind, clears it, and makes it aware and open. Now, ask workers to schedule for themselves tiny mental breaks, perhaps less than fifteen seconds every now and then, in which they repeat steps one through three, very briefly, for a mental reset before continuing work. This is especially important before beginning a new task, but workers should monitor their own attention from time to time and pull back for a “performance break.” “Am I paying attention? Am I rushing this? Do I have all the tools and protective gear I need? Is someone near me putting me in danger?” The exercise could end there, but as a final, bit more advanced step, ask workers to consider creating a little trigger that reminds them to act in a safe manner. Their trigger might be putting on their gloves, going back to the active face of the mining pit, turning on their equipment, calling out “ready” to a coworker. This trigger is a signal to their mind that it’s time to focus. Marissa Afton, an industrial safety consultant with the Potential Project, sometimes does mindfulness training, but she doesn’t necessarily like to use the word “mindfulness.” Instead, she talks about “situational awareness” or uses other words that resonate with workers. “People who work in corporate environments take well to the idea of sitting and breathing as a mind-training practice. It fits into the natural workday,” she says. “But for people always on the move, just sitting still can be really uncomfortable—physically uncomfortable. I ask them, ‘What does it mean to move with sharp focus and also a sense of relaxation? … How are we continually sharpening our focus and opening our awareness to both seen and unseen risks? How do we go to the mental gym?’” Mindfulness can be one of the greatest deterrents to workplace accidents. Yet, just as is the case with gloves, helmets, or steel-toed boots, mindfulness only works if people actually use it. Frame mindfulness in a way that makes sense to your workers, and reap the rewards of better attention. MAKE MINDFULNESS WORK FOR YOU
IN SAFETY TRAINING, BORING = FAILURE
When you were in school, did you ever have a class where you struggled to pay attention? Maybe the teacher spent the whole class lecturing in a droning voice with no inflection and no activities to break up the monotony. Maybe some days you even fell asleep, despite your best efforts to stay awake.
Chances are, you didn’t learn as much as you could have in that class. And was that your fault? In my opinion, no. It was the teacher’s.
The same is true for safety training. If workers aren’t listening to your training, it’s your failure, not theirs.
Again and again, working men and women with a vital interest in their own safety—who are out in dangerous roadways, down in mines, in the bellies of airplanes, or sailing at sea—are subjected to tedious PowerPoint slides with hundreds of bullet points, or safety videos with actors in slow motion accompanied by a monotonous voiceover. Over time, workers learn to snooze through these shows and ignore them. Safety training absolutely cannot be boring. Audience interest is not a “nice to have”; it’s a “must-have.” If people are not interested and engaged in what you are saying, they are not going to retain the information—it’s that simple. Let me put this in bold type:
THE DULLNESS OF PRESENTATIONS PRESENTS AN ACTIVE DANGER. BORING IS A FORMOF FAILURE.
To ensure the success of your safety training, here are ten secrets to stop being boring.
#1: DEVELOP A PERSONAL STORY
Find a story you can tell to make a vital personal connection between yourself, your audience, and the material. Safety expert Delaney King, who often trains trainers, recommends having two stories, “both a negative and a positive story, a disaster and a problem solved.”
Your stories can be about a relative, a friend, or a coworker—but you have to have a personal connection and really care about the story. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent relevant to the situation, but your personal involvement with safety will create automatic interest and a common bond with listeners.
#2: WORDS ON SCREENS SUCK
Words on screens suck, and more words on screens suck even more. The human mind is simply incapable of retaining lots of bullet points, not to mention the problem of workers with poor language skills. It’s okay to do some (not all) PowerPoint, but the show should be 99 percent pictures, with maybe one or two words per slide: “Pinching Danger” or “Right Way” and “Wrong Way.” Remember also that if you don’t have words on the screen, workers will have to listen to you talk. The stuff on the screen should just catch interest and illustrate what you are saying, never substitute for what you are saying or discussing or demonstrating.
#3: PHOTOS WORK
Yes, gruesome photos, used with care, are an effective tool. Photos of doing the job right and wrong are also crucial—for instance, videos of donning and doffing gloves correctly when using dangerous chemicals, but without stupid voiceovers. Use just the pics and video in the background, as you talk and engage. Photos of “near misses” can be particularly effective. But make sure always to leave the audience with a positive, “right way” image.
#4: HUMOR WORKS
Beyond holding interest, good humor is disarming, it reduces objections. Good humor also puts you on the same side as your audience—“we are laughing together.” The trainers at my company, Superior Glove, have used any number of humorous videos to good effect, even when dealing with very serious topics. Funny stock photos and cartoons work too—we use them all the time in our training materials and on our website. Humor must, of course, always be used with caution: no politics, religion, sexist, or sexual orientation jokes. Humor must also be universal—something everyone can relate to. That means you should use clips from popular TV shows, not something obscure.
#5: VARIETY IS MANDATORY
Far too often, trainers reuse the same infographics, the same statistics, and the same photos over and over again to make the same point. Even if the audience has changed, this will eventually dull your own presentation skills. As every performer and teacher knows, you must be willing to take risks with new material, try new approaches, and engage your audiences in different ways, or you will become stale over time. Often, this means introducing material that is not strictly relevant to your audience, just to get their attention.
#6: CREATE A CONVERSATION
Get workers’ feedback, their tips and tricks to stay safe. Get them telling their personal safety stories. Get everyone past their discomfort of discussing safety in a group and they will become genuinely engaged, maybe even proud of their contributions to everyone’s well-being. If you are doing all the talking, you are doing something wrong.
#7: KEEP IT SHORT
Even fireworks get boring if you watch them long enough. Keep it short.
#8: DON’T PACK IT ALL INTOONE SHOW
The human mind can only absorb so much in one sitting. Presenting fifty bullet points in sixty minutes makes it unlikely that people will remember even five of those points. Giving a solid discussion of five points in ten minutes, with another ten minutes of discussion, makes it pretty likely that people will remember those five points.
#9: BE WILLING TO CHANGE
Most safety trainers get into a rut. Often they’re completely unaware that no one’s listening to them. If your message isn’t getting across, you need to be honest with yourself and your audience. You need to be willing to say, “Hey, you guys don’t seem to be getting this, let’s try it a different way.”
#10: CRITIQUE YOURSELF
Videotape yourself giving a presentation and force yourself to watch it. Are you mumbling? Being dismissive of others? Repeating yourself? Going on and on and on? What can you do to shorten it, tighten it, spice it up? I guarantee the first time you do this you will be shocked at how boring you are.
If you are involved in safety training, you have been tasked with a great responsibility. Your job is to keep workers safe. Safety training can literally be a matter of life or death. What could possibly be boring about that? Banish boring, and you could save a finger, a hand, a leg, or even a life. It takes work to make safety training engaging, but you owe it to yourself and your workers to do just that.
“I tell people they absolutely have to develop a personal story about safety that they can share with an audience. Actually, they need both a negative and a positive story, a disaster and a problem solved.” Rethinking Hand Safety
4 STEPS TO CHOOSE A PROPER WORK SAFETY GLOVE
A Liberty Mutual study found that about 70 percent of hand injuries happen because people aren’t wearing gloves when they should be. For want of a proper work safety glove, hands are cut, broken, and bruised. Skin is torn off, and fingers are lost. Men and women must endure months, even years of agonizing recovery, with no guarantee that their hands will ever be quite the same. When hand injuries occur, everyone suffers. Team morale goes down, and company costs go up, with the added expenses of worker’s compensation, safety fines, lost time, and turnover. Choosing a glove may seem like a small decision, but if the work you do endangers hands, this “small decision” will have a huge impact. I guarantee it. To protect your workers’ hands, you need the proper glove. The proper glove, as I define it, is the one that meets the minimum requirements, and that people will actually wear.
To find the proper gloves for your company, follow these four steps:
1. Do a hazard assessment. 2. Identify the requirements for each kind of glove, per task. 3. Ask for samples and run trials. 4. Put together the data and make the purchase.
Let’s unpack each of these steps so that you can ensure your workers are wearing the right gloves—the gloves that will prevent injuries and save hands.
#1: DO A HAZARD ASSESSMENT
In order to know what the proper gloves are for your company, you need to know what hazards and risks your workers face. To this end, do a hazard assessment per task, or better yet, do an assessment in tandem with a reputable glove company. They’ll probably do it for free.
A hazard assessment is critical because workers don’t always know what dangers they face. In fact, according to Matthew Hallowell, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, studies have shown that, in general, workers are only aware of about 45 percent of the hazards they face. Your job with a hazard assessment is to see more risks than they do. Your job is to identify as many of the hidden dangers as possible before they happen. Not after they happen. Identify the requirements for each kind of glove, per task. By “requirements,” I don’t just mean government standards. I mean clearly understanding what’s actually needed in terms of protection, grip, dexterity, comfort, etc.—for that very particular task. That means close study and talking to workers. Gloves should meet, not exceed the requirements. As with Goldilocks, “just right” is just right. If, for example, you find you need a cut level A2, don’t even test out a cut level A5—it will be too bulky. Gloves must not be too bulky, too expensive, or too overdesigned for the work, because then they won’t get used. As you make your list of requirements, you may realize that you need ten or more different kinds of gloves in your facility. It is far better—and safer—to get gloves specialized by task, instead of trying to find a one-size-fits-all glove, which usually doesn’t exist or will be too bulky to actually use. The rule of thumb is one task, one type of glove. Ask a glove manufacturer to supply multiple glove samples for each task type requiring different kinds of gloves. Assuming each sample meets your requirements, you only need two or three glove options, plus the incumbent glove. If you try to run a trial with more options than that, you will likely find the logistics a nightmare and the feedback confused. Once you get the samples, run trials with a selection of actual workers performing the actual tasks. Have multiple workers use the gloves for about a week. Don’t let one worker, one supervisor, or one purchasing manager make this decision. #2: IDENTIFY THE REQUIREMENTS FOR EACH KIND OF GLOVE, PER TASK #3: ASK FOR SAMPLES AND RUN TRIALS
These trials are incredibly important because gloves provide absolutely no
protection if they are not worn. A Liberty Mutual study found that about 70 percent of hand injuries happen because people aren’t wearing gloves when they should have. Often enough, they weren’t wearing their gloves because they literally couldn’t do their jobs with the gloves on.
By running trials, you can ensure that the gloves you choose are practical and comfortable enough that your workers will actually wear them.
#4: PUT TOGETHER THE DATA AND MAKE THE PURCHASE
Finally, when the trials are complete, put together the data, compare prices, and negotiate bulk deals on your purchase.
Remember that you will likely need multiple glove types for multiple tasks. My company makes over 1,000 different kinds of work gloves because that’s how many it takes to fit all the kinds of work and safety minimums of our customers, along with all the kinds of comfort and style needed to fulfill that otherwise simple dictum.
THE IMPACT OF THE PROPER GLOVES
With the proper gloves for each task, you will be able to rest easier, knowing that your workers are protected. Worksite injuries will go down, and worker morale will go up. Workers will be able to complete their tasks safely and effectively. With the proper gloves, you can save the finger, the worker, the schedule, the customer, the year, and the company.
5 STRATEGIES TO CREATE SAFERWORK ENVIRONMENTS
For more than a hundred years, my family’s company has been making work gloves. We make—no kidding—over 1,000 different kinds of gloves in over 5,000 SKUs.
Yet I will be the first to tell you that proper gloves are far from the only, or even best, answer to a safer work environment.
For the safest work environment possible, you must follow the hierarchy of safety controls. This hierarchy is composed of five core strategies. These are, from most effective to least effective:
1. Elimination—physically remove the hazard 2. Substitution—replace the hazard
3. Engineering controls—isolate people from the hazard 4. Administrative controls—change the way people work 5. Personal protective equipment (PPE)—protect the worker with PPE
Most everyone involved in safety knows of this hierarchy, but it’s often forgotten in day-to-day safety conversations and decisions.
Workplace injuries cost companies billions of dollars every year in worker’s comp, to say nothing of the immeasurable cost an injury can have on an individual’s quality of life. Safety needs to be a prerequisite at any company, and that means burning the hierarchy of safety controls into your mind.
To help you do this, I will give you an example of the power of the hierarchy in action, and then I’ll break down each level of the hierarchy in more detail.
THE SAFETY HIERARCHY IN ACTION
One of our territory managers visited a paper mill where workers had to carry long, heavy, sharp blades weighing maybe fifty pounds, about 500 feet from the roll-cutting machine to the sharpener several times a day. The manager told our territory manager he needed to find some “super cut-resistant gloves” to protect the workers as they made these journeys.
When our territory manager and the manager went down to visit the mill floor together, it turned out that indeed, a worker had just been injured—but the guy had stabbed himself in the stomach carrying a blade. He’d slipped, and the blade had ripped through his shirt, where he had to have stitches along his belly. “Instead of buying new gloves,” offered our rep, “why not build custom wooden boxes to carry around these blades? It’ll cost you maybe ten dollars a box to build them. You put the box in a cart and roll it across the factory. You’ll save maybe $50,000 a year on fancy gloves, and you won’t have the problem at all.” Why were this manager’s employees walking around all day carrying huge blades against their bellies? Because the manager had failed to look for an elimination or engineering solution before dropping down to the level of PPE. He’d ignored the hierarchy in his thinking. By taking a step back and returning to the hierarchy, our territory manager was able to suggest a solution that would result in much higher safety. Cut-resistant gloves, no matter how great they were, would not have prevented the stomach injury, whereas the elimination solution of boxes would. As an added bonus, that solution was cheaper! A logical and rigorous approach to work safety will always start from top to bottom of the hierarchy, as options are explored. The point is to take the most effective actions you can to reduce or eliminate injuries, and not automatically skip down to the easier, less-effective solutions lower down—until you are absolutely certain higher-level actions cannot be achieved.
In creating a safer environment, elimination should always be the first step, so let’s take a closer look at this key strategy.
When you identify a hazard, force yourself to first ask if that hazard can somehow be completely eliminated. Seems obvious, right? But it’s surprising how often people take a hazard for granted, as in “that’s just the way it is.” At my company, we mold gloves on forms. For years, people were at risk of getting carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive task of removing gloves from
those forms. When we finally thought the problem fully through, we realized we could completely eliminate the carpal risk by adding a compressor that automatically inflates the gloves and pops them right off the form when they’re baked. Bingo.
A new tool? A completely different approach? How could a hazard be completely eliminated?
Second down the hierarchy is substitution, replacing the hazard with a safer alternative.
If workers have to handle toxic chemicals, they should certainly wear the right chemical-resistant gloves—but could less toxic chemicals be found to do the same job?
If workers are using knives, would retractable box cutters work just as well, reducing the chance of a cut?
If workers have to crimp metal parts, could better, powered crimpers reduce hand muscle strain?
Could a substitution reduce, if not eliminate the risk?
#3: ENGINEERING CONTROLS
Third down the hierarchy are engineering controls, which isolate people from a hazard. This includes all manner of safety guards that attempt to keep fingers away from moving gears, blades, grinders, and belts. Engineering controls can be even more aggressive. If you have a highly hazardous machine, can it be caged and locked out so that only properly trained workers have access? Can the machine be entirely redesigned to make it less dangerous to hands? Could you add an emergency stop switch linked to an electric eye? A trigger grip that has to be held to keep the machine running so it stops the instant the worker lets go? Special handles on boxes to protect fingers?
#4: ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROLS
Fourth down the safety hierarchy is administrative controls.
This is a big, broad category which can include, for example, redesigning the job instead of the equipment. Can you rotate people into positions on a line to avoid carpal tunnel issues? Can you change the way they reach for parts? The order in which they do the work? Give more breaks to improve concentration? Administrative controls can also include highly specific warning signs, training programs, emergency wash stations for chemical exposure, safety checklists, supervisory oversight, safety inspections—a long list of possibilities. It’s wrong to think of administrative controls only as a fallback. Why? Because no matter what other controls you put in place, they can never be fully “automatic”; you will always need administrative controls in a hazardous workplace. At the bottom of the hierarchy comes personal protective equipment (PPE). Why are things like gloves, sleeves, hard hats, aprons, and seat belts at the bottom of the list? Shouldn’t people always wear PPE when doing hazardous work? Well, yes and no. PPE cannot protect against many kinds of hazards, and ultimately, it’s the last resort, the final line of protection against a cut, a burn, a chemical exposure, an impact, vibration, a germ exposure, a crash, or you name it. PPE is the final shield when all other shields have failed. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to forget that PPE lies at the bottom of the hierarchy. Getting people to wear PPE must never prevent you from exploring all the upper levels of safety actions. Far too often, managers start by thinking, “We need better PPE,” instead of “How can we eliminate this hazard altogether?” That said, it’s important to remember something else about PPE: Ultimately, you can have all the other levels of the safety hierarchy going, and still miss a critical element. In fact, given the unpredictability of the universe, you will always miss #5: PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
a critical element. When the unexpected happens, PPE might be the very thing that saves a worker’s hand, leg, or life—and often does.
USE ALL AVAILABLE MEANS OF SAFETY
Useful as the safety hierarchy may be, it may falsely give the impression that you should only focus on the highest level possible, while ignoring other levels. In reality, you want to use all available means of safety. In nearly every case, you will need to use multiple levels of the hierarchy simultaneously. Being in charge of people’s safety is a critical responsibility and one you cannot take lightly. Resist the urge to jump to the lower levels of the hierarchy or focus only on certain levels, even if that seems to offer the easiest solution. Only with a robust approach of elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE combined will you create the safest work environment possible.
7 COGNITIVE BIASES THAT LEAD TOUNSAFE WORK
Have you ever thought, “Oh, that won’t happen to me,” even if statistics say it’s likely?
Do you always take the same route home from work, even though there might be other, better options?
Have you skipped wearing sunscreen because “just a couple of hours of sun won’t do much harm”?
If so, you’ve operated from an unconscious cognitive bias (specifically, the bias of ignoring the baseline, the default bias, and the bias of underestimating cumulative risk). When we humans make decisions, we follow all kinds of assumptions based on what has happened to us before, what others have told us, and what we see right in front of our eyes. Without our natural biases, we wouldn’t really be able to function, as we wouldn’t be able to make any decisions at all. Sometimes, though, our biases pose a danger to us, by leading us to act in unsafe ways. To be safer at work, we have to be consciously aware of our biases and act against them when needed. And yes, this applies to both management and workers.
Let’s take a closer look at seven cognitive biases and how they can lead to unsafe work.
#1: OVERCONFIDENCE BIAS
Hardly anyone considers themselves overconfident, but nearly everyone is. Put simply: Most people believe they are more agile and smarter, as well as better at most tasks, than they actually are. As an example, do you believe that you are an above-average or below-average driver? No less than 93 percent of people who respond to that question say they are above average—and surely half of them are wrong.
In the workplace, overconfidence translates to doing things like skipping safety processes, assuming we can work as safely at 4 p.m. as we did at 10 a.m., ignoring the fact that the floor is understaffed that day, not getting help when we need it, assuming we know how a machine functions under all conditions—the list goes on and on. In short, overconfidence leads us to skip best practices we know we should do. The worst thing about overconfidence is that you get positive reinforcement all the way up until disaster strikes. If you’re doing something in an unsafe way, and you do it 500 times without injury, you start forgetting that it’s unsafe. Then you get to 501. A worker uses a knife to trim the excess off an extruded plastic part. Her attention is on her knife, on the part she is holding, on the speed of the line. Without looking, she puts her hand down to grab a clamp—unaware that another worker has left an open knife on the table. When she cuts herself, she is the victim of a cognitive bias that assumes nothing has changed in the environment to endanger her. Never before has a worker left a knife there—so her habituation to the environment has caused a blind spot. Blind spots make us vulnerable and can be caused by any number of factors. For instance, sometimes obvious dangers can cause blind spots to less obvious dangers. Suppose, for example, a factory has a metal-stamping machine which has crushed workers’ hands several times in the past, causing horrible injuries. When working with this machine, everyone watches the stamper like a hawk. Meanwhile, there’s also an automatic arm that moves each piece of metal out of the way for the next to be stamped. It has exposed gears that can pinch and destroy a finger, but no one has ever experienced that injury. This automatic arm may be a blind spot danger—unseen, hidden by the obvious danger. #2: IGNORING BLIND SPOTS
#3: CONFIRMATION BIAS
The confirmation bias, as defined by Scott Plous in The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, refers to the natural human tendency to “search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.”
In other words, we often see only what we expect to see.
In 7 Insights Into Safety Leadership, safety expert Thomas Krause relates an incident in which a miner with thirty years’ experience died when the roof of a tunnel collapsed. The collapse came right after he and an equally experienced foreman had inspected the tunnel for structural issues, and found none. After the incident, an investigation found no less than 137 missing bolts, along with obviously compromised roof planks. How had the foreman and the miner not seen these problems? The answer was simple: they’d done previous inspections of other tunnels in this mine without seeing any problems, so they didn’t expect to see any in this tunnel. With the confirmation bias, not only do we see what we expect to see, but our pre-programmed brains actively ignore anything that contradicts our first assumptions. All of us tend to think that our own circumstances are somehow unique, and we tend to ignore the typical statistics governing our activities. That includes accident rates. This cognitive bias has a name: “ignoring the baseline.” More than ignoring the baseline, we are often in active denial about the baseline. Even though workers have heard about their fellows developing serious conditions from, say, handling fiberglass insulation without gloves, they continue to do it—assuming, somehow, that it won’t happen to them. #4: IGNORING THE BASELINE
Accidents and injuries can happen to anyone, including you and your workers.
#5: DEFAULT BIAS
Whenever a choice is presented to us, we tend to choose the defaults—it’s not just easier and quicker, but we assume that the defaults are somehow the safest bet. That means that when a worker approaches a task or a machine, they always tend to look for the defaults—whether someone else has explained the other options, or not.
Because of this bias, we must be very thoughtful in what is established as the default. For instance, if you have five different kinds of safety gloves available in
the workplace, you need to make it absolutely clear which are the default gloves for a particular kind of work. That might mean a big picture of the default gloves next to a particular machine, or better yet a rack with those specific gloves placed next to the machine.
#6: UNDERESTIMATING CUMULATIVE RISK
Humans tend to vastly underestimate cumulative risk—the things that are harming them slowly, over time.
Everyone knows the fable about frogs and boiling water. If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out safely. But if you put the foolish amphibian in cold water and boil it slowly, it will not recognize the danger in time, and it will die. Unfortunately, this analogy can be applied again and again to work safety.
People handle “just a little bit” of a dangerous chemical every day until they develop skin conditions or neurological issues or cancer.
People use vibration tools which are causing neurological damage over several years without noticing until it’s too late. Gloves wear thin and get holes, but people keep on using them. If these gloves had been issued on day one, they would never have been accepted.
#7: RECENCY AND AVAILABILITY BIAS
The recency bias, also known as the “availability bias” of the human mind means that we tend to focus on top-of-mind, recent events, with lots of readily available information, giving them more importance than they deserve.
The recency and availability bias means that we are always looking at the immediate past for answers, instead of looking forward.
If somebody loses a finger working with a harvester on a farm, everyone is going to be very careful around harvesters for a while. Attention will be paid to new gloves, guardrails, and protocols around harvesters. Meanwhile, workers are deploying pesticides bare-handed, they’re fiddling with open tractor engines while the tractors are running, they’re operating power takeoff flywheels without any training.
The lost finger is a tragedy, but it could be an outlier injury, not a danger faced by many workers in every shift. Indeed, dangers may become hidden by the focus on this recent event, as no overall hazard assessments are taking place.
TRAIN YOURSELF TO COUNTERACT YOUR BIASES
These cognitive biases are largely unconscious. They happen instantly, without thinking. But that doesn’t mean that we are helpless against them. We can overcome our biases with conscious thought. Simply by being aware of these common biases, we can begin to counteract them. Where safety is involved, we must pause, ask ourselves what biases might be at play, and question whether those biases could be leading to unsafe behavior. We can then take different actions, ensuring a safer work environment.
The hand is one of humankind’s greatest advantages. It sets us apart from other animals and allows us to complete any number of specialized tasks. So when we injure our hands, it can have a huge impact on our life. Holding a pen, buttoning a shirt, brushing your teeth—it’s all more difficult with a hand injury. 7 MISTAKES TO AVOIDWHEN CHOOSING WORK SAFETY GLOVES
With how important hands are, protecting workers’ hands must be a top priority. One of the best ways to do that is with the proper safety gloves.
I’m the vice president of Superior Glove, one of North America’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of work gloves. With my experience, I know that picking the right gloves can mean the difference between a worker losing or keeping a finger. Yet far too often, I see companies go about this crucial decision the wrong way.
By learning from these companies’ mistakes, you can better protect your workers’ hands. Without further ado, here’s how to not choose safety gloves.
#1: STICKINGWITH OLD GLOVES
The most frustrating part of my job is when the purchaser has no interest in my experience, the availability of modern materials, or the fine balance between protection, comfort, cost, launderability, and fashion. Instead, all they want is the exact same kind of glove they’ve been using for twenty years, but cheaper.
Normally I can’t say what I’m thinking, so I’ll say it here:
Listen, friend, if you’ve been using the same gloves for twenty years, you are doing a profound disservice to your workers. Why? Because gloves have improved, tasks have undoubtedly changed, and I know for a fact that you could do a better job protecting your people’s hands.
Would you use the same cell phone you used twenty years ago? Gloves have improved just as much.
#2: PICKING A GLOVE WITHOUT A HAZARD ASSESSMENT
Sure, worker hands need to be protected against cuts and abrasions. But do they also face a good chance of an impact? Occasional chemical exposure? Even if no such injuries have yet occurred, you need to find out if they could. Far too often, gloves are chosen based only on past injuries, without trying to anticipate dangers. If you want to best protect your workers’ hands, a hazard assessment is absolutely required.
#3: PICKING A GLOVE WITHOUT RUNNING SAMPLE TRIALS WITH ACTUAL WORKERS
You absolutely need worker feedback, and actual workers need to tell you that yes, these gloves can be used when performing this task, or no, they’re too clumsy. Actual workers need to say, “These gloves are comfortable enough—so yeah, these gloves will get worn.”
Without sample trials, you could easily wind up with hundreds of pairs of gloves that nobody wears. And gloves only provide protection if they’re worn.
#4: LETTINGWORKERS CHOOSE THEIR OWN GLOVES, WITH NOOVERSIGHT
I’ve walked into facilities where I’ve seen upwards of 100 or 200 different kinds of gloves being worn. I’ll turn to the safety manager and say, “What’s going on? You probably need ten different kinds of gloves, not a hundred, right?” And the reply comes, “Well, Jack likes this brand, and Jill likes that brand, so we let everyone choose their own. We give them a catalog, and they just specify what they want, and we order it.” I carefully explain that not only does this cause a staggeringly unnecessary expense, but also individual workers simply do not have the expertise to each choose their own glove. They don’t know the options, they don’t know all the issues, and they won’t put in the necessary time for the decision.
Worker input: yes. Worker free-for-all: no.
#5: RELYING ON A DISTRIBUTOR INSTEAD OF TALKING DIRECTLY TO EXPERTS AT A GLOVE COMPANY
We once ran a secret shopper test in which we called up some major distributors and said, “Hey, we’re a metal-stamping company with 300 employees. We just had a serious hand injury, and we’re using X kind of glove—what would you recommend?” The responses were shocking. Usually distributors asked us exactly what kind of glove we were using, then said, “Great, I’ve got that glove, but I can give it to you for a little less than you’re paying.” Seriously? The same gloves in which our people got injured, but lower quality? No advice on upgrading for safety? Distributors, of course, sell everything from nuts and bolts to compressors and forklift parts. It’s not surprising they can’t always offer expert opinions on gloves. If you are a concern of any size, a serious glove company should be willing to come assess your needs, run trials, and get you the right stuff. If your primary question is, “Will this glove keep OSHA off our back and prevent us from getting sued?” you are going down the wrong path. Most likely result? You will buy gloves that are bulky and overprotective—hence they won’t get worn. When someone loses a finger, you might not get sued for failure to provide adequate PPE, but if you’d bought the right kind of glove, the guy might have actually been wearing his gloves, and his finger may not have been hurt at all. #6: FOCUSING ON YOUR LEGAL LIABILITY INSTEAD OF YOUR WORKERS’ SAFETY
Here’s one of the most common questions I get from purchasing managers:
“What do you have that protects against basically everything?”
The answer? “The total glove exists, but you don’t want it. We have gloves that allow you to hold something that’s 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but no one can wear it to hold a nail and hammer it in.” If you add puncture resistance, you are adding bulk. If you make a glove waterproof, you are not just adding bulk, but discomfort. The trade-offs are real, and the trade-offs require expert advice, trials, and worker feedback.
#7: THINKING “ONE PERSON, ONE PAIR OF GLOVES”
A construction worker might spend the early morning handling a jackhammer requiring vibration-protective gloves. By 10:00 a.m., she might be handling a hazardous chemical like a tar or glue. Later, she might pick up a smoothing rasp requiring an entirely different kind of protection. Ideally, that worker would switch gloves for each task—with the glove associated to the task, not the worker. Too often, however, both workers and supervisors think, “That’s the glove for Jane,” instead of, “That’s the glove for jackhammering.”
The right prescription is “one task, one pair of gloves.” The more specific the better.
Save Some Hands
Choosing which gloves to buy is a vital decision. It is a choice that will directly affect the safety of your workers. A choice that can save fingers. Hands. Livelihoods. Even lives. When it comes to safety, you can’t afford to cut corners. If you or your company is currently making one of these seven common mistakes, it’s time to make a change. It’s time to choose better gloves and save some hands.
For want of a glove, a finger was lost For want of a finger, a worker was lost For want of a worker, the schedule was lost For want of a schedule, a customer was lost For want of a customer, the year was lost For want of a year, the company was lost All for the want of a proper glove Rethinking Hand Safety
A REQUIREMENTS CHECKLIST FOR WORK SAFETY GLOVES
I have spent my entire life in the business of making gloves. I grew up in Acton, Canada, where the smell of the leather tanneries hung in the air day and night. I started helping my father make and sell gloves when I was eight. After I got a degree in chemistry, I was sent to study at the Reutlingen leather school in Germany, which you might call the “Hogwarts of leather making.” I continue to work in the family business, which has grown into one of North America’s biggest glove suppliers. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s how important the proper gloves are for safety. When accidents occur, the proper set of gloves can save a worker’s hand. When you set out to buy gloves, you need to compile a clear set of minimum requirements. These requirements will be based on any industry/government standards that apply to your work as well as the features your workers need in a glove to be able to complete their jobs safely.
Your requirements checklist will depend on the specific task the glove is needed for, but to help you get started, here’s a general checklist of things to look for.
There are standards for dexterity, but really you need to run specific trials to understand the dexterity needs of your workers. Before purchasing gloves, you should acquire samples and have workers test them out for about a week. If your workers can’t complete their tasks while wearing the gloves, they won’t wear them, and gloves only work if they’re worn.
As with dexterity, determining your requirements for grip requires specific trials. The gloves may also require special coatings. Sheet metal, for example, is usually covered in a metal-handling oil to prevent rust—and you need a specific glove for the work. If you’re making a large sheet of glass, say for the skin of a highrise, you need an extremely good grip, along with cut resistance: if the glass slips, you instinctively tighten your grip, and the glass can cut through you like a blade. “General purpose” gloves will not suffice.
Cuts are the overwhelming number one on the list of hand injuries, so cut resistance is critical.
Modern materials have revolutionized cut resistance. For example, Kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests, can be spun into thread and knitted into gloves to provide remarkable cut resistance. If you’re wearing the correct glove and a piece of glass slides into your hand, you may not get cut, or if you do get cut, the wound will be far less severe than it otherwise would have been. You should make your choice on cut resistance based on standard ANSI cut levels. You’ll find this and other safety standards on my website www. rethinkinghandsafety.com. Abrasion injuries are second only to cuts, which makes abrasion resistance another important factor. Leather still provides great abrasion resistance, but modern materials are catching up fast. Abrasion resistance also relates to the overall life of the glove. I have seen manufacturing environments, for example, where even high-quality gloves must be changed out for a new pair four times a day. If your work includes substantial abrasion, you will want to run a glove trial long enough to see if the glove holds up over time. ABRASION RESISTANCE
When choosing gloves for puncture resistance, you need to know if you are specifically dealing with small objects like needles, or larger objects like broken glass. You will find specific standards for each. Puncture resistance always reduces dexterity and comfort, so difficult choices must be made.
Gloves with impact resistance include padding on the top of the hand and the fingers. They evolved out of sporting gloves like those used for dirt biking and are surprisingly comfortable.
Some industries often expose workers to severe impact dangers, especially from heavy equipment—and over the last few years, impact-resistant gloves have dramatically reduced things like back hand fractures in the oil and gas industry.
Industry has made huge strides in protecting workers from heat dangers through automation and tool redesign, but in certain applications, gloves remain crucial for handling things like hot cooking oil, welded parts, and molten metals. Heat- resistant gloves have specific temperature ratings, and you need to do careful research on what you require.
Vibration resistance is a vital requirement for workers using pneumatic tools or similar equipment, which can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), a serious disability. For tools with high levels of vibration, like a jackhammer, choose a glove with a lot of anti-vibration padding; for smaller tools like a grinder, go with a thinner, more form-fitting glove. A glove with too much padding can actually increase forearm strain and increase the likelihood of HAVS. Also, full-finger gloves are much better than half-finger versions, as HAVS is most likely to develop in the fingertips. There’s no such thing as “generic hazardous substances protection.” If a job includes the handling of chemicals, it’s critical that the glove company you use knows exactly which chemicals, so the glove or glove coatings can be exactly right. For example, there’s a glove made of polyvinyl alcohol that’s resistant to a wide range of quite hazardous chemicals, but it’s soluble in water. If it comes in contact with water, it will fall apart quickly. Importantly, no chemical-resistant glove will keep the bad stuff out forever. You need to know how long a resistant glove can hold out, and when it needs to be thrown away. HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES PROTECTION
Microorganism protection is a feature found in disposable gloves used mostly in healthcare applications. Make sure to also consider abrasion resistance, puncture resistance, allergies, powdering, and more.
When workers operate in cold conditions, warm gloves are essential to protect against frostbite. To choose the right winter gloves, you need to know what temperatures workers operate in and for how long. Any good winter work glove will have multiple layers, manage moisture effectively, and stay warm even at the fingertips. The lining should be wool, polypropylene, or ThinsulateTM—never cotton.
LENGTH OF CUFFS OR SEPARATE SLEEVES
Are your worker’s arms also in danger from burns, cuts, and abrasions? If you need a cut-resistant glove, it’s likely you also need a long cuff or a separate protective sleeve.
Do workers finish up a task by pushing in a pin with the palm of their hand? Maybe you need a glove with a thick pad right at that spot. Do you need extra cut protection along the thumb?
Large manufacturers may have what you need, or may custom design a glove—do your homework and be specific.
A glove’s laundering ability is often ignored during the glove selection process, but it’s crucial to long-term value and total cost.
Most companies will simply throw out even highly expensive, custom gloves when they become overly sweaty or dirty. I find this a tremendous waste of
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