Wearing Safety Gloves in the Machine Shop
Should gloves be used by those operating rotating machinery?
The knee-jerk response has been a resounding no. General thinking has been that gloves should be avoided where EXPOSED rotating machinery is used as the operator has an increased risk of being caught up and drawn into it. In short, glove wearing had the potential for increased risk in these environments.
But is there a case in today’s modern heavy engineering environments - with a growing emphasis on fully enclosed, computer operated machinery - to rethink the use of technical safety gloves?
The dangers of working in a machine shop environment, with exposure to powerful, rotating machinery was made clearly apparent to me at a very early stage in my quest for engineering knowledge when a student got his school tie caught up in a lathe chuck at low speed. Luckily for him, in the 80s it was ‘cool’ to pull out strands of your tie to make it a different colour than it should be, thus causing the tie to break easily and pull him to safety.
A clear and present danger?
Although there remains a clear and present danger of wearing hand protection where exposure to rotating equipment is present, thankfully the modern day machine shop has changed considerably with precision machining of aerospace aluminium and titanium often undertaken by fully enclosed, computer controlled machines.
This and the focussed approach to engineer out major risks from working processes has resulted in significantly reduced risk exposure for the operator from rotating equipment. However, not all risks can be engineered out and whilst hand protection should be seen as a last resort, it is still required to protect against mechanical risks which pose a very real threat to workers, mainly from handling pre and post-machined components; handling, changing and maintaining multi-faced modern cutting tools and even from cleaning and maintenance programmes that expose workers to equipment.
It’s difficult to calculate the exact ratio of dry and wet cutting and machining operations in the UK without physically visiting every one in every location. However, based on my experience of supporting many of the UK’s leading aerospace, automotive and manufacturing companies, I am confident that it hovers around the 50:50 mark.
The introduction of coolants, water and oil emulsions and other lubricants in the engineering process can increase the risks for operators. Whilst they aid cutting; not only do they reduce grip and control when handling components but they also increase the potential for dermatological risks.
Getting the balance right
Human interaction remains an essential part of the job with traditional machining operations, such as manual lathe, milling machines or pedestal drilling tasks where the rotating part of the machines, are guarded but perhaps not completely and are still within the operators’ reach. So the goal is one of balance.
Hand protection is especially important where synthetic or water based coolant is present where there is potential to splash or contaminate the operator.
Handling pre and post-machined components ranging from small inner aircraft skin brackets made from titanium through to six cylinder engine blocks for 21st century excavator engines requires a large degree of secure grip and control.
Wearing a glove that provides the right mechanical protection for handling these type of components is only one important facet in the glove-selection process and those selected should offer the right level of cut and abrasion performance. However, if the glove being worn doesn’t offer the right amount of grip, regardless of the cut level index, the glove will underperform or not protect as it should. So it is important to consider the combination of both mechanical and grip performance.
And just as the engineering environment has changed, so too has the development of technical hand protection.
One example is the introduction of nitrile foam palm coatings, combined with new innovative technical cut resistant yarns as evident in the SHOWA S-TEX 376 from Globus. This safety glove can be worn in the machine shop for securely handling dry or lightly oiled ferrous and none ferrous materials, bar stock as well as pre- and post- machined medium and heavyweight components. The flexible fully coated nitrile base level coating provides a barrier to oils, greases and a myriad of cutting fluids thus reducing the risk from contact skin diseases.
The glove belies its dexterity and comfort by providing a high level of cut resistance (in ISO 13997 tests, a sample of the glove was able to withstand up to 22.4N of force on the blade before achieving ‘cut-through’ of the liner sample). This makes it robust and durable enough to protect from precision edged machined parts and components, yet dexterous enough to fasten and secure the smallest carbide tips to cutting arbours.
Any operator wearing a range of hand protection providing secure grip and control when handling awkward or heavy or oily / greasy components will also benefit from;
- Increased posture
- Reduced musculoskeletal damage
A glove designed to improve grip on such surfaces, allows the wearer to confidently handle the material, move it from A to B or load it safely in to a chuck or vice without any abnormal posture or body compensations arising from lack of grip, control or the worry of dropping it.
Should gloves be used for operating rotating machinery? Whilst the answer remains no, there are in many instances requirements for hand protection in the traditional and more modern machine shops. For example, when handling and or loading heavy and awkward metallic parts, that are often oily, greasy or indeed polished, into machine chucks. Be it manual lathes, milling machines or pedestal drills, the need for secure grip and increased control and thus reducing the risk of muscular skeletal injury or trapped fingers is essential.
Therefore, the solution is to wear gloves that offer increased grip in those environments that include nitrile foam palm coatings in conjunction with technical fibres that protect from minor nicks and cuts, then removing the glove when operating the machinery.
There are other environmental risks too, such as contamination and contact from coolants, cutting fluids and lubricating emulsions that increase the efficiency of metal cutting applications. It is important to protect the operator from extended contact from these substances which are applied during the cutting operation. A robust nitrile disposable glove will offer a sound barrier to them and should any rogue swarf or similar sweep the hand, the glove will fracture or burst and not create a drag or pull-risk to the wearer.
Please feel free to contact me, or one of my colleagues, if you wish to discuss this topic further, or how we could help you and your business with your hand protection requirements.
Disclaimer – The content in this article contains the opinions of the author not a qualified Health and Safety Manager. A COSHH assessment should always be completed and any action endorsed by the Health and Safety Manager
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