How can workers stay safe when wearing gloves around rotating machinery?
Responding is Joe Geng, vice president, Superior Glove Works Ltd., Acton, Ontario.
When you work in a manufacturing plant, personal protective equipment such as gloves can be a major safety factor. Gloves protect your hands from heat and other temperature concerns, chemicals, and cuts and bruises.
However, many employees wear gloves when working with major machinery that rotates or has other heavy moving parts. This is one situation in which PPE can actually lead to injuries instead of protecting the worker. Wearing gloves or loose clothing around heavy machinery is severely dangerous and should be avoided due to the risk of entanglement.
Injuries from entanglement
Injuries from entanglement can take many forms and vary in severity. Machinery such as bench drills, lathes, paint-stirring machines, CNCs, and stump grinders are a few types of machinery that can end up entangling gloves or other loose clothing. Injuries can range from bruises and cuts to broken bones and even the loss of fingers or limbs.
These injuries can result regardless of how experienced the worker is at using the machine in question, and regardless of whether the machinery has a guard on it. Loose clothing and gloves can easily slip under or around a guard and become entangled.
According to OSHA, loose-fitting clothing should be avoided around machinery, and employers are responsible for maintaining safe “housekeeping practices” to avoid entanglement hazards. Some of these practices include:
- Keep the area surrounding machines clean and clear of hazards such as oil, debris and other materials that put staff at risk for falling.
- Keep the work area large enough to allow plenty of clearance around machinery.
- Ensure employees are not wearing loose-fitting clothing, gloves, jewelry or anything that can become entangled in machinery.
- Keep machines away from high-traffic areas, or any area where distracted employees may be in danger from the equipment.
- Train employees about entanglement hazards, operating procedures, the proper and safe use of guards, and reporting procedures.
PPE is not always appropriate
PPE such as gloves can be a very important factor in preventing workplace injuries but should be worn only when it is appropriate for the task being performed. Workplace policies and procedures should specify where and when PPE is appropriate.
When employees are using rotating machinery, regulations should specify that all clothes should fit snugly, long hair should be tied back and gloves should not be permitted. If the situation requires gloves for some other environmental reason (sharp edges, chemicals or temperature concerns), gloves should be tight and form-fitting, and of a variety specifically chosen to reduce the risks of entanglement. However, this is a last resort, and if possible no gloves should be worn around rotating machinery.
The risks of wearing gloves when using rotating machinery cannot be overstated. To minimize risks to staff, employers need to closely examine their policies regarding this issue and recognize situations in which protective equipment is actually dangerous.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.