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Learn about Gilbane’s fresh approach to construction hand safety with Superior Glove

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May 3, 2024 in Health & Safety
By Raghu Chakkravarthy, Gilbane and Ian Lanpher, Superior Glove

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Hand injuries are the #1 preventable industrial accident. But if they’re preventable, why are they still so common in construction? At first glance, the facts make little sense. There are countless PPE choices on the market, hand protection technology continues to advance, and more workers are wearing safety gloves than ever before. Shouldn’t this be enough to avoid preventable hand injuries?

Gilbane and Superior Glove didn’t think so. When they looked at the prevalence of preventable hand injuries, they saw that the construction industry and its partners were viewing hand safety the same way they always have. Hand safety programs were PPE-centric and one-size-fits-all.

Gilbane’s Federal Division partnered with Superior Glove to challenge this status quo. They knew that construction was not like other industries such as manufacturing, where operations are similar day-to-day and third-party workers are few. Construction tasks and hazards vary as project phases and schedules shift by the day, week, or month. In addition, third party partners are an integral part of everyday work.

Safety standardization, culture, and communication are very complex in construction. Construction requires a replicable way to scale safety solutions across worksites and with trade partners, but one-size-fits-all does not work, nor does a PPE focus that doesn’t address foundational elements like safety culture and communication.

Together, Gilbane and Superior Glove developed a customized Hand Safety Program suited specifically to tackle these issues in the construction industry. The program was built on two key principles from the book REThinking Hand Safety, which was written by Superior Glove’s Vice President, Joe Geng. The first key principle is that an effective safety culture requires addressing the full hierarchy of safety controls and PPE should always be the last line of defense. The second key principle is that all stakeholders should be engaged in the development process to ensure all affected parties are empowered and share responsibility for safety.

Over a three-month period, Superior Glove’s hand safety specialists worked onsite with Gilbane safety professionals and stakeholders, including general contractors, trade partners, workers, and owners. Together they reviewed incident data, analyzed safety policies and procedures, observed employees, and collected feedback from worker interviews to identify any gaps or deficiencies in existing safety measures. The goal was to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place rather than solely relying on protective equipment. This approach not only reduced the dependence on gloves, but also instilled a proactive approach to safety within the workforce.

Workers were observed and interviewed on site across trades and tasks to determine environment- specific and task-specific hazards and to determine how they could be addressed with the hierarchy controls to eliminate or minimize hazards before PPE recommendations and trials commenced. This wholistic approach emphasized addressing non-PPE safety changes first, leaving fewer hazards for safety gloves to fight against.

Although PPE was being treated as the last line of defense in Gilbane’s hand safety program, providing appropriate safety gloves was still necessary. Trialing solutions were an integral part of finding the best hand protection for each worksite task. Each trade or application may have different types of primary or secondary hazards. Different tasks require disparate levels of dexterity, insulation, grip, and durability. By trying various gloves for each trade, Gilbane ensured that workers felt comfortable, protected, and uninhibited while working.

Unlike typical safety gloves trials, which are done in a single day, Superior Glove worked with Gilbane to conduct extended trials to accommodate multiple schedules, workers being moved weekly to different sites, and the multitude of tasks that changed as a result. Extended PPE trials were conducted over two-week periods across multiple locations. Workers received various gloves tailored to their specific tasks and used them onsite over multiple days, providing Gilbane and Superior Glove with direct feedback on comfort and performance.

What started with three months of intense assessment and support has continued as a long-term Hand Safety Program partnership that has reduced hand injuries by 95% in Gilbane’s Federal Division. “This was not an overnight success. It took about three years for us to see the desired injury reduction within the division. It was worth the wait, and we couldn’t have done it without Superior Glove, our workers, our trade partners, and other stakeholders who were committed to this program’s long-term success,” says Raghu Chakravarthy, Safety Director at Gilbane Federal Division.

Ian Lanpher, Superior Glove’s Construction Specialist for North America, agrees and adds, “By working with Gilbane Federal we were able to develop a practical approach and tools to support that approach that are specific to the construction industry. Together we shifted safety culture with new ways to communicate effectively across stakeholders, guidance for hazard elimination and reduction, safety specification language, and glove selection tools that made safety standards clear before projects started. This allowed for a proactive approach that could be replicated across projects without being one-size-fits-all or PPE-centric. What we created with Gilbane made it possible for hand safety to be an everyday priority that all stakeholders want to participate in and that drives real injury reduction. To me, that’s a job well done.”

Gilbane and Superior Glove continue to work together to maintain and improve hand safety. They hope to inspire more industry leaders to change the way construction approaches hand safety with partnerships like theirs.

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