Get the Upper Hand on Safety with Protective Gloves
Glove size and cut resistance are just a couple of the important aspects of hand protection. Use this guide to choose your PPE wisely.
Industrial accidents can have a devastating impact on workers. In addition to pain and mental anguish, an accident can cause major, unforeseen life changes. From the company’s perspective, accidents are expensive. An accident can disrupt production, hurt worker morale and can even lead to major legal costs and sanctions from regulatory agencies. The economic impact of occupational accidents across all industries is enormous.
The good news is that accidents don’t have to happen. Preventing them is the responsibility of company leaders, working with their employees, to protect everyone on the worksite. That effort requires sustained education and persuasion to get workers to adopt safe work practices — like wearing proper safety gear. Effective leaders take responsibility for preventing bad things from happening to their good people.
Getting a Handle on Risk
Because the hand is such a complex instrument, it can be very difficult to repair. After a severe hand injury, the hand may not function as it did previously, due to loss of motion, dexterity and grip. In some cases, workers may not be able to perform even simple tasks, leaving them disabled. What’s more, manufacturing and construction workers are at much higher risk than workers in other industries.
As might be expected, many hand hazards are equipment-related, including vibrating equipment, rotating equipment and tool and equipment pinch points. Chemical exposure, cuts and punctures from sharp instruments are also major hazards. Mother Nature gets into the act as well, through insect bites, bee stings, blood-borne pathogens and extremely hot or cold temperatures. These hazards can cause a wide range of hand injuries. Cuts or lacerations may sever nerves, tendons or muscles and can become infected. Bone fractures can damage nearby tissue and be difficult to repair.
Another category of hand injuries, dermatitis and burns, is caused by direct contact with chemicals, detergents, metals and extremely hot or cold objects. Dermatitis may present itself immediately after contact or may develop after several exposures to chemicals known as sensitizers, which later produce allergic reactions.
What to make of all this grim news? Help is only a lining away. For example, cut-resistant gloves protect hands from direct contact with anything sharp, such as knives, metal parts of industrial machinery, and sharp edges. Many new high-tech gloves — made from high-strength fibers and specialty coatings — provide excellent protection from cuts and abrasions. Chemical-resistant gloves also provide significant protection to workers.
It stands to reason that gloves that are lighter, more comfortable and provide more dexterity will be more acceptable to workers. And today’s glove manufacturers are producing just that: cut-resistant gloves that provide more dexterity, via engineered yarn. These gloves are thinner, even while providing more cut resistance. Cut-resistant fibers, combined with polyester fibers, have a softer feel. “Today’s engineered fibers work in concert with the mid-90s introduction of seamless glove-knitting technology to take cut-resistant glove comfort to new highs.”
Managers can also make sure workers are more likely to wear gloves by making sure they fit correctly. Proper fit is determined by measuring the circumference of the hand around the palm, or at the base of the metacarpals:
- Smaller than 7" is extra small
- 7.5" is small
- 8" is medium
- 9" is large
- 10" is extra large
- Larger than 10.5" is extra extra large
Cutting through the Red Tape
Another major incentive in getting workers to use gloves is pretty simple: It may be the law. In the U.S., employers are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) for performing hazardous work. Employers are required to determine if PPE should be used to protect their workers, and if so, a PPE program should be implemented. This program should address hazards; the selection, maintenance and use of PPE; employee training; and program monitoring.
Hand protection is covered under OSHA’s PPE standard number 1910.138, which states, “employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees’ hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes … .”
Appearances Are Deceiving
When selecting protective gloves, it’s important to note that just because a pair of gloves appears to be tough, that doesn’t mean they are cut resistant. For example, many people believe that leather gloves are strong and naturally cut resistant. Leather is really just skin, and as such, it’s no more resistant to cuts than our own skin, so leather gloves cut very easily. The same is true of cotton.
Engineered, synthetic fibers, such as Kevlar® and Dyneema®, offer five to ten times the cut protection of leather. These modern materials are used in bulletproof vests and are much stronger than steel on an equal-weight basis. Also, Kevlar provides good thermal protection against both heat and cold, while Dyneema is extremely abrasion resistant.
Chemical-resistant gloves offer crucial protection from industrial chemicals. These gloves are made from various types of rubber: natural, butyl, neoprene, nitrile or fluorocarbon; or various kinds of plastic: polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyvinyl alcohol or polyethylene. Glove manufacturers typically blend or laminate chemical-resistant gloves for improved performance. Typically, thicker gloves provide more chemical resistance, but overly thick gloves may impair grip and dexterity, a factor that can introduce its own safety risks.
Selecting the right gloves to prevent cuts, abrasions and burns is critical. Gloves should not only be cut resistant, but vibration and chemical resistant as well. Other factors include grip, since a secure grip can reduce the threat of injury by preventing the tool a worker is using from slipping; abrasion resistance and durability, since most gloves are used for long periods of time; and dexterity and comfort, which can encourage workers to continue to use protective gloves when they otherwise might discard them because they get in the way of performing tasks.
One of the ways manufacturers have improved glove grip is by using a sponge nitrile coating that can be modified to create different grip qualities. Some of these coatings can provide maximum grip, while others provide the ability to grip and release.
Choosing the Right Glove
There are four different standards used to rate the cut resistance of gloves:
- EN388/2003 is the mandatory standard in European Union countries, Australia, South America and Canada;
- ASTM F1790-97 measures the force in grams to cut through a cut-resistant material with a knife, using a reference blade travel of 25 mm (0.98");
- ASTM F1790-05 is an updated version of the F1790-97 test;
- ISO 13997 is similar to ASTM D1790-05, except the force is measured in newtons, not grams.
Another standard, ANSI/ISEA 105 (American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association), is considered a supplemental standard. This standard assigns the guideline cut levels for U.S. protective glove manufacturers based on results from the ASTM test method, and many U.S. manufacturers use it.
ANSI/ISEA is a testing agency that rates cut resistance, and its ratings measure cut protection in a range from 0 to 5, with 0 being lowest and 5 being the highest.
Gloves with cut levels 1 and 2 are typically used in work areas with minimal cut hazards, such as routine handling of non-hazardous materials. Gloves rated 3 or 4 should typically be used in work areas where a medium cut hazard is present, such as parts with sharp edges. Gloves rated 5 are for high-risk work areas, such as when handling glass products or sheet metal. There’s a wide variety of gloves that meet key cut protection requirements, such as:
- Light Kevlar gloves can be used alone or as a liner inside of another glove for added protection.
- Heavier, ANSI/ISEA Cut Level 4 gloves offer protection for medium-hazard work areas.
- PVC-coated gloves provide workers increased grip and extended wear.
- HPPE-lined, coated-palm gloves (HPPE is similar to Dyneema) provide good grip and protection from abrasions and chemicals.
- Cut-resistant, synthetic-leather gloves with Kevlar lining offer cut resistance and a padded palm for impact resistance. Some come with PVC-reinforced knuckles or TRP-molded knuckles and fingers for additional impact resistance.
- High-impact, cut-resistant mechanic’s gloves, with added molded knuckles, protect hands from injury without sacrificing dexterity.
- Fingerless, padded-palm, synthetic-leather mechanic’s gloves free up workers’ fingers for highly tactile jobs, while the synthetic leather provides protection against abrasion and impact.
- Package-handler gloves with breathable synthetic leather and tacky, silicone-dotted palms and fingers provide maximum grip and durability.
- Mechanic’s gloves made of synthetic leather with a gel-padded palm for comfort offer impact and vibration resistance. They can be used for power tool, machine and heavy equipment operation.
- Winter anti-vibration mechanic’s gloves, made of synthetic leather, with a winter liner for cold weather, are appropriate for power tool, machine and heavy equipment operation.
Water-resistant synthetic leather gloves with reinforced palms offer improved grip while protecting hands from cold conditions (-15° to 5° F).
The Kryptonite for Super Gloves
While cut-resistant gloves offer impressive protection against injury, they are not impervious to wear. Like any piece of critical safety equipment, they should be inspected before each use to ensure they are not damaged and, if they are, should be securely discarded to prevent anyone from picking them up and using them. Inspection of chemical-resistant gloves should confirm that they have not absorbed the chemicals they are designed to protect against, since that could compromise their protective capability.
Cut- and chemical-resistant gloves may seem like a minor part of a safety program, but their use is critical since so many accidents occur when employees are working with their hands. When used, monitored and documented as part of PPE programs, these gloves can be a powerful tool in the ongoing effort to create and sustain truly safe workplaces.
U.S. Mine Rescue Association
“When workers won’t wear gloves,” by Gil Leverne, Jr., “Industrial Safety & Hygiene News,” February 2012.