Research at the School of Health and Sport Sciences at the University of Osaka, Japan, continues to confirm what ergonomists teach about grip force and gloves.
Many employers in manufacturing, health care, and service industries require workers to wear some type of glove. This may be to protect both the worker and the product. We see gloves worn in hospitals, electronics manufacturing, meatpacking, housekeeping, metal working, and even auto manufacturing.
In all these examples, workers can be interacting with equipment that requires force to be applied with some of the smallest muscles in the human body, those in the hands and fingers, which are covered by the glove.
So, the workers wear gloves that might be made of cotton or rubber or some other material, and their hands and the product are protected. What is the problem? The problem is that, as the Osaka study showed, wearing gloves can increase the amount of force applied by workers, and higher forces are associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Studies have linked forceful grips, prolonged grips, and grips performed with awkward postures to MSDs like DeQuervain’s syndrome, “trigger finger”, arthritis, tendonitis, and even carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
At the University of Osaka, researchers found that subjects wearing thicker gloves, used more force to pick up an object. For instance, subjects picking up a wine glass while wearing cotton gloves might apply two or three times more pressure than subjects wearing thin rubber gloves. Subjects wearing rubber gloves use more pressure than those without gloves.
The reason that more force was applied by subjects wearing gloves is that the glove reduces the amount of tactile feedback the worker gets through the finger. In other words, workers are not able to accurately ‘feel’ how much force they are applying and overcompensate.
Researchers found that this applied to slippery surfaces, like delicate dishes or crystal wine glasses. When subjects picked up something rough, such as sandpaper, the same amount of force was used with all types of gloves.
In addition to causing workers to apply more force due to reduced tactile feedback, poorly fitted gloves may require workers to again increase the amount of force used. In addition to carefully selecting the type of glove provided to workers, gloves of different sizes should also be provided.