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Grasping reality: hand hazards in mining and how to reduce them

Supplier: Ansell Industrial Healthcare
05 June, 2014

Hands are an essential part of everything we do, from the most basic tasks like dressing and feeding ourselves, to the more complex work related tasks like driving a truck, using a screw driver, and operating machinery.

At the forefront of most hazards, the risks of hand injuries are substantially higher than any other body part.

In mining, hand injuries represent some of the most frequent and significant injuries, with reported numbers an unlikely reflection of actual incidents. In the Queensland mining industry alone, maintenance activities contributed to over half of the hand injuries reported during 2007-121.

As the first line of defence, protective gloves play a critical role in the reduction of hand injuries, shown to reduce risk by as much as 60 per cent2. Despite this, there are still a high volume of incidents that occur as a result of inadequate or ill-fitting gloves that can easily be avoided.

Factors affecting our fingers

In South Australia’s mines and quarries, the highest body location for occupational injury sustained while working was the hands, representing 37.17 per cent of the total work related hospital cases in 2004. Open wound injuries accounted for 28.75 per cent of these3.

Whilst most employers are dutiful in their approach to OH&S by providing personal protective equipment to workers, some mandatory glove policies do not take in to account the suitability of a glove to specific applications.

In mining especially, where oil, contaminants, wet areas, and heat are all part of the environmental makeup, a thorough assessment of each maintenance job and the risks it entails is necessary in order to provide adequate protection and comfort to the wearer.

Gloves, worn for long periods of time, can cause great discomfort along the stitching and seams to those working in heated environments. Simple factors like this, give workers the excuse they need to remove protection, as is demonstrated in two large studies of acute hand injury at work, where 72 per cent and 81 per cent of injured workers reported not wearing gloves at the time of the Injury.

Issues also surround the performance of gloves. Often there is a trade-off between comfortable gloves that provide some protection and gloves that offer all of the necessary protection but decrease performance. This means that whilst some gloves will afford cut resistance in the work environment, they may also reduce dexterity and tactile perception.

In South Australia, mining maintenance and production workers were reported to have removed gloves to perform the high dexterity components of work5. This is all too common across the board in mining, especially during maintenance, where workers are consistently under pressure to complete work as fast as possible so as to reduce downtime.

'Failure to Comply' – what this means for mining

Incidents of workplace injury can accumulate costs to business in many ways. Worker downtime being one of them.

In the Queensland mining industry alone, hand injuries were the second most commonly reported lost time injury during the period 2007-20126. Serious hand injuries, where long term damage is caused, can further increase worker downtime and costs, not to mention the threat of legal action in the more extreme cases where a worker is unable to return to work.

Legally it is the responsibility of employers to provide suitable protective gloves to all workers exposed to risks. Whilst it is inherent that gloves must comply with Australian/ New Zealand standards AS/NZS 2161.1:2000, they must also be compatible with; the wearer, the work to be done, and any other personal protective equipment required to be worn7. Failure to comply can result in high financial costs to the employer.

In 2012, a railway worker in the UK lost part of his thumb after it became infected due to a split seam on a pair of fabric safety gloves, exposing his skin to contaminated waste. The employer admitted liability and was fined more than $13,000, after it was learnt that staff had previously raised concerns about the suitability of the type of glove being used on a number of occasions but nothing was done to improve the situation8.

Solution

In reality, it is often not the performance of the glove that is the problem, but the inadequacy of sizing and functionality, coupled with failure to fully assess the needs of the application.

The HyFlex glove range from Ansell is the result of decades of global experience in environments like mining, where performance needs are notoriously complex.

Designed to provide an ideal balance of comfort, protection and dexterity in jobs that require precision handling of small parts and other assembly applications, the HyFlex range adds true benefits to workers who wear them day in and day out.

References

[1] Department of Natural Resources & Mines, "Preventing serious hand injuries", Mines Safety Bulletin (133), May 2013, pg 1. http://mines.industry.qld.gov.au/assets/mines-safety-health/safety-bulletin-133.pdf

[2] Gary S. Sorock et al, "Glove use and the relative risk of acute hand injury", Journal of Occupational & environmental Hygeine, 1: 182–190, 2004, pg 182. http://www.asse.org/foundation/research/docs/foungrnt_march04_peng.pdf

[3] David Nery, "Hand safety in South Australian mines and quarries", South Australian Mining & Quarrying Occupational Health & Safety Committee, pg 1. http://www.maqohsc.sa.gov.au/_upload_docs/20111125120237.Hand-Safety-Final-Project-Report-26-10-11.pdf

[4] Gary S. Sorock et al, "Glove use and the relative risk of acute hand injury", Journal of Occupational & environmental Hygeine, 1: 182–190, 2004, pg 182. http://www.asse.org/foundation/research/docs/foungrnt_march04_peng.pdf

[5] David Nery, "Hand safety in South Australian mines and quarries", South Australian Mining & Quarrying Occupational Health & Safety Committee, pg 1. http://www.maqohsc.sa.gov.au/_upload_docs/20111125120237.Hand-Safety-Final-Project-Report 26-10-11.pdf

[6] Department of Natural Resources & Mines, "Preventing serious hand injuries", Mines Safety Bulletin (133), May 2013, pg 1. http://mines.industry.qld.gov.au/assets/mines-safety-health/safety-bulletin-133.pdf

[7] WorkSafe WA, "Gloves: Selection, use and maintenance", WorkSafe bulletin 10, 2005 http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/PDF/Bulletins/Gloves-guide.pdf

[8] Thompsons Solicitors, "Part amputation of thumb due to unsuitable gloves for railway worker", 22 March 2012 http://www.thompsons.law.co.uk/personal-injury/part-amputation-thumb-unsuitable-gloves-railway-worker.htm