If you want expert advice on automotive safety hand protection, Alex Blair is your man! Blair is DuPont™ Kevlar®’s Business Development Manager and Automotive / Metal Fabrications / Cut Applications Specialist, and has over eleven years of experience working in the automotive safety business. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Commerce from Appalachian State University, and is a licensed Qualified Safety Sales Professional (QSSP).
We asked Alex to impart some of his safety wisdom on us during a recent visit, drawing on his own experiences to share his insights, observations, and strategies for reducing costs and improving hand safety in your automotive facility.
Q #1: What are the biggest automotive safety mistakes that you see?
Mistake #1: Having either too much or too little glove selection.
I often see one of two extremes: too little glove selection, or too many. In the case of too little glove selection, a manufacturer is trying to get one glove to work for all hazards, and more often than not, that is not possible. You need a selection of gloves to handle various hazards in a plant.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is having too many gloves to choose from. This tends to happen when there is a lack of control, and workers decide which gloves they will be wearing and get the Purchasing department to bring in whatever glove they like best. This lack of control results in sacrificing the level of safety provided, and often, an unnecessary increase in cost. A safety manager should get the input of workers when deciding on a hand protection program, but workers should not be dictating what hand protection they will be wearing.
There needs to be a happy balance between “one glove fits all,” and a having the choice between every glove imaginable. Standardization without going overboard is key.
Mistake #2: Failing to educate employees about when to dispose of their gloves.
Another common mistake is not standardizing when gloves should be disposed of, and failing to train employees about it. Many workers wear gloves beyond their useful life, putting themselves at a much higher risk of injury. In general, I recommend against patching or repairing gloves. Gloves never really perform properly after being patched — especially if it is a cotton patch! When I go into a plant, I look at the cuff of a used glove. If the cuff elastic is blown out and loose, that is an easy way to tell if the gloves are being worn past their useful life.
Again, on the other end of the spectrum, I see people wearing a pair of Kevlar gloves for a couple hours and then throwing them in the trash and getting a new pair. That is simply wasteful. This is an issue I see with vending machines not being properly set up. Workers can choose the wrong glove for the job. Ideally, there should be a 1 for 1 trade in with gloves to ensure gloves are not disposed of prematurely.
Mistake #3: Using gloves that aren’t suitable for the application.
I see people using general purpose gloves who should really be wearing cut resistant gloves. For example, in the early stages of assembly, parts and edges are often very sharp. In many plants, they are wearing nylon coated gloves for this job. First off, people are being exposed to cut hazards there without proper protection, and secondly, they’re going through too many gloves, because those general purpose gloves lack durability.
There are also a lot of areas where HPPE is being worn where there is a possibility for a burn. For example, HPPE gloves should definitely not be used in body shops. There is the possibility of weld slag landing on your hand, and an HPPE glove could literally melt onto you!
Also, don’t forget about using sleeves as protection from both cuts and burns. Superior has a great a black Kevlar sleeve that fits amazingly well. I often see applications in automotive plants where people aren’t wearing sleeves, but they really should be.
Q #2: What are the best practices you see with regard to hand protection in automotive plants?
A: Toyota is one of the best companies I’ve seen when it comes to implementing a good hand protection program. They standardize hand protection throughout a plant, carefully control when a glove gets thrown out (they don’t patch their gloves), and they partner with their PPE manufacturer to come up with better solutions for the hazards their team members face every day. Also, they recognize the value of buying a branded product, like Kevlar, and the reliability that it comes with it.
Q #3: What are some of the worst practices you’ve observed in automotive plants?
A: Using cotton or leather gloves for handling metal stampings. Those plants are often going through 6-8 pairs of cotton gloves per day when they could be using one Kevlar glove, laundering it, and then reusing it. In those plants, it is cost that is driving the safety program — not safety. Even worse, if they look at lifetime cost of a glove, rather than simply initial purchase price, they would realize they are spending too much on hand protection overall — not to mention the enormous risk they are putting their workers in by using cotton gloves to handle sharp, heavy parts!
The other thing I see is when it comes time to cut costs in a plant, the hand protection program is often the first area people look. Hand protection programs are the worst places to look for cost savings. Whenever plants skimp on their hand protection program, they end up actually increasing glove usage, increasing injuries, and opening themselves up to trouble with OSHA.
Q #4: What’s the simplest step for reducing hand injuries?
A: First of all, I would do a thorough plant survey to identify where the injuries are coming from. I would find out what kinds of injuries they’re having — whether it is cuts, punctures, or burns. Then, I’d work with a PPE manufacturer that is quick to respond to develop a really good solution for them.
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