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Protecting hand protection costs

By Linda Johnson

In 2014, Sanjel, a large global energy service company, implemented vending machines for personal protective equipment (PPE) in its North American locations. The company, which has 4,500 employees worldwide, was looking for ways to not only efficiently keep workers protected, but also to reduce costs.

“Because this is unfortunately the kind of stuff that walks away, we needed to make sure we controlled it, so having these vending machines where we can hold our employees accountable has reduced usage and gives us better control,” says Siobhan Chinnery, vice-president, corporate supply chain at Sanjel in Calgary.

With the distribution of product carefully controlled, employees using PPE — including gloves — from a vending machine tend to be more careful about the selected equipment, are less likely to make poor choices and are more likely to reuse equipment where possible.

“This can represent a significant cost-saving in the long run,” says Julie McFater, marketing and communications manager at Superior Glove Works in Acton, Ont. “A properly instituted PPE vending program can save you up to 40 per cent in increased efficiency, productivity and inventory.”

Vending machines are just one of the many options available for reducing the cost of hand protection — at the same time as properly protecting workers’ hands.

An effective way to reduce both injuries and the costs of hand protection is to select the right gloves. That means taking the time to analyze the job hazards and choose a safety glove that best protects against the hazard and its severity, says Wayne Wood, associate director of university safety (EHS) at McGill University in Montreal.

For example, leather protects well against cuts, abrasions, heat and cold, provides some insulation and is not conductive. But it is not a good barrier against anything wet. Gloves made of neoprene or Nitrile provide good protection to a lab worker who is handling a wide range of chemicals.

Wood says glove selection is always a balancing act. In addition to protecting against hazards, gloves must be comfortable and provide the qualities — dexterity, tactility and grip — required to perform the task efficiently. If gloves are uncomfortable to wear or hinder task performance, workers are less likely to wear them and become more vulnerable to injury.

Permeability is another factor to consider in selecting gloves that will both protect and last. Along with specifications such as type of material and thickness, the manufacturer’s product information indicates “breakthrough time” — the length of time it takes for a substance to pass through the glove.

“A good glove will give you a breakthrough time in terms of hours. An inferior material may have a breakthrough time of just a matter of minutes,” Wood says.

Don’t assume you can find one glove that will do everything, he adds. It’s likely to be the wrong glove for some workers and will cost you more money if someone gets injured or sick.

Gloves that are not designed to resist the hazard will degrade faster. Thus, it pays off to choose gloves that are durable and able to withstand the rigours of daily use, says McFater.

“Also, have a good look at the construction,” she adds. “Is the stitching straight? Are the fingers properly shaped and fitted?”

Standardizing PPE and reducing the number of SKUs can also decrease the cost of a glove program, says McFater. Technological advances in glove manufacturing have made it possible to standardize product use across similar job tasks and sites.

“You’ll sometimes find you can replace two different gloves with a single style that has multiple functions. More innovative gloves with smarter designs often means keeping less inventory,” she says.

Safety gloves range a great deal in price. While some are not much more expensive than everyday work gloves, others can be costly. In general, says George Astrakianakis, associate professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the more “exotic” the material or hazard being addressed, the more expensive the gloves.

“Also, thicker gloves, ones that have a lining and gloves that serve dual purposes are all more expensive than the standard, simple glove we might use to keep our hands from getting soiled,” he adds.

However, it’s important to see the initial cost as an investment, says Michael Loiacano, senior manager for Guardian services for the Americas at Iselin, N.J.-based Ansell Healthcare.

“Up front, safety gloves are going to cost you more in the piece price, but your overall cost performance with worker satisfaction, injury reduction, overall wear and substantial launderability will actually reduce your cost,” he says.

Maintaining gloves properly will help preserve effectiveness, preventing injuries and reducing replacement costs. In addition to knowing how to select gloves, employees need to be trained on the importance of keeping gloves clean and on identifying gloves that need to be replaced, Wood says.

Regular and correct laundering of gloves can reduce costs significantly by removing contaminants that decrease effectiveness and shorten the life of the PPE, he adds. Replacing low-grade or disposable gloves with high-quality gloves that can be cleaned will lower costs.

Gloves are tested for launderability, and laundering instructions generally come with the product.

“A lot of the time, you can get two to three washes out of our gloves. Just because they’re dirty doesn’t mean you have to throw them out. That can certainly reduce customers’ costs,” says Loiacano.

Injuries cost more than gloves

A lot of evidence supports the notion that providing effective PPE is cheaper than having injuries, says Jamie Hall, chief operating officer of SAFE Work Manitoba in Winnipeg. In 2013, for example, there were 2,370 (1,015 hands; 1,355 fingers) lost-time injuries in Manitoba and 5,113 (1,564 hands; 3,549 fingers) in Ontario.

The costs of injuries include productivity, possible increase in workers’ compensation board premiums and replacement of damaged equipment. In addition to the cost of the injured employee’s time away, the employer must spend time managing the claim. And, if there’s an investigation, the productive time of other employees is also lost.

“What’s the loss of productivity for a day versus a pair of the proper gloves that would have prevented the injuries? And, one day’s lost productivity, even at minimum wage, can buy you a few pairs of gloves,” Hall says.

Other costs are indirect, he adds. If the injured person is off for a period of time, the employer may have to find replacement workers and train them at a significant cost.

“That becomes a cost to the organization that really isn’t measured in many ways,” he says.

While every business needs to reduce costs, Wood says, it’s essential not to emphasize it too much.

“You don’t want a culture in which workers actually remove their gloves to prevent them being damaged,” he says. “That’s definitely a poor way to try to save money.”

Linda Johnson is a freelance writer based in Toronto. 

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of COS.

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