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Every year, millions of workers get injured on the job, and a significant number of reported occupational injuries are hand related. Depending on the severity, not only do these injuries have a huge medical cost associated with them, they are also expensive in terms of lost productivity and wages.

Believe it or not, reducing the incidence of hand injuries in a workplace does not start and end with wearing the right hand protection—though it is one of the necessary tools to prevent such occurrences.

How to build a safe working space for your workers

The hierarchy of controls identifies the safety controls many industries use to protect workers by minimizing or eliminating exposure to hazards. They start from the most effective measures at the top, to the least effective at the bottom. These include elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and PPE.

When viewed through the lens of the hierarchy of controls, personal protective equipment is the least effective safety measure.

So, why is this the case? Aren’t gloves, sleeves and other PPE important to protect workers from the risk of hazards? The answer is not a simple “yes” or “no.” This is because safety managers and workers often forget to consider other important control measures in the hierarchy of controls when they rely solely on PPE. And while PPE, like gloves and sleeves, offers protection against cuts, burns, abrasion, chemical, impact, crush, vibration or other hazards, it cannot protect workers from all workplace dangers. This includes risks of prolonged exposures to hazards, injuries due to mishandling equipment, tripping, falling and other risks that can be mitigated or eliminated using control measures. That said, if all other controls fail, PPE may be the very thing that saves a worker from serious injury.

Ultimately, it is important to follow the hierarchy in order, starting from the most effective, rather than choosing the easiest control measure. And while these controls can be implemented in phases over time, multiple levels of hierarchy can be adopted simultaneously, depending on the company’s logistical necessities—and no one step should be completely ignored to realize the true effects of this system.

Learn More

To learn more about the hierarchy of controls in creating safe work practices that reduce the risk of injuries, check out Workplace Safety: Why PPE Is the Last Line of Defense, which discusses each stage in detail, including gaps in all safety controls.

Read More About Why PPE Is the Last Line of Defense

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