Protecting Our Most Valuable Tools: Hand Safety in Mining

Harsh mine site conditions bring a unique set of safety issues, ranging from chemical and mechanical hazards to heavy loads and vibrational impacts. Workers use their hands daily for tasks such as welding, cutting and operating complex machinery. Gloves are therefore an important piece of protective equipment at every mine site. In this article, Shane Wood, National Safety Category Manager at Blackwoods, explains the importance of prioritizing hand safety and explains how glove design adapts to meet everyday on-site challenges.

Wrist and hand injuries account for a large portion of work-related hospitalizations in all industrial sectors. Depending on the severity of the injury, the hands are difficult to repair due to their complex structure of bones, tendons and ligaments. This can affect the individual’s ability to continue the same type of work after recovery. With such risks on the table, it is imperative that mining sites prioritize hand protection appropriate for the application and the task.

“PPE and gloves are the last line of defense for one of our most valuable tools in mining work – our hands,” says product expert, Shane Wood. “Despite this, hand safety is often overlooked when we are in a rush, which is why Australia has such high rates of hand injuries, particularly among industrial employees.”

While large mining companies have some of the strictest protocols around employee health and safety, small to medium-sized operations rely on PPE distributors and glove manufacturers to advise them on product suitability. This is based on the standard markings on the glove, which are sometimes unclear. According to Shane, it can be difficult to identify the best gloves for the application using only these markings.

“Standard approvals and glove markings can get quite confusing,” he explains. “In Australia, for performance testing on mechanical hazards such as abrasion, two different cut tests, tear, puncture and impact, we rely on AS/NZS 2161.3 which is a direct adoption of European standards EN388:2016 Some glove brands in the Australian market will carry these AS/NZS ratings, while all global brands sold in Australia will only have European EN388 markings on the gloves.

“They’re both tested the same way, but that creates a gray area and cases of user confusion,” Shane continues. “If a glove is tested by a certified third party lab, the AS/NZS or EN marking should give users peace of mind that the glove’s performance levels have not been overstated.”

In addition to cuts and abrasions, high vibrations or repeated blunt blows to the hands can develop flow effects and pain in other parts of the body, including the shoulders, back, and abdomen. Manual handling also carries common risks such as pinched fingers – something that is often considered “part of the job”, but can be mitigated by impact resistant gloves.

“The most important thing is to make sure the gloves are fit for purpose,” says Shane. “Matching the right gear with the right application means you get the best possible protection. If you wear gloves that are too bulky when working with small parts, chances are you’ll end up taking them off out of frustration.

“The trickiest thing is to ensure complete protection without impeding mobility,” he continues. “Depending on the job being done, the gloves may need better grip, better chemical resistance, impact or pinch protection, etc. There’s no one glove to rule them all – it’s about responding to the specific task and weighing safety with efficiency.

Balancing expectations of affordability, compliance and user comfort is the biggest challenge for PPE manufacturers as they must minimize restricted dexterity for handling tasks. Shane posits that as fiber and production technologies advance, gloves are increasingly tailored to market needs.

“Advances in manufacturing techniques and materials are constantly improving. We also have unique factors to consider in Australia; wearing gloves in warmer regions like Western Australia or North Queensland will be uncomfortable, so breathability is key. Seamless knits and abrasion-resistant fibers like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) can help with this.

Providing industry with timely and flexible solutions also means paying attention to changing practices such as software integration.

“We are seeing such innovative approaches in glove design recently, especially as digitalization has become part of industrial operations. As automation became more common at mine sites, we noticed gloves coming off to use interfaces or phone screens, and then people forgetting to put them back on. So, the touchscreen compatible fingertip is definitely an extremely beneficial design element that is becoming more and more popular.

Blackwoods strongly advocates rigorous field testing of all PPE and relies on end-user feedback to deliver the best products to the Australian mining industry. For more on hand protection and safety apparel, Shane recommends reading the latest issue of Safety Spotlight magazine, available to order or online.

About Octavia A. Dorr

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