OHS Canada Magazine

Getting Comfy

October 10, 2011
By Jason Contant
Health & Safety

Yet another survey; yet another disappointing result.

In July, Kimberly-Clark Professional in Roswell, Georgia released findings from an online survey on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Of the 119 people taking part, 89 per cent reported having observed workers not wearing required safety equipment.

The most common reason for non-compliance was the belief that PPE was not needed, but there were others: gear was too inaccessible, too unattractive or too uncomfortable.

The importance of comfort when selecting safety gloves, for example, cannot be overstated. “For years when you did market research, the worker always talked about wanting a bare-hand feel,” says Martin Shamis, a senior research scientist at Kimberly-Clark Professional. The closer the industry gets to achieving that feel, “the more workers will accept the gloves, and the more compliance you’ll have,” Shamis argues.

Glove manufacturers have responded by ensuring that equipment offerings are increasingly lighter, more comfortable, thinner and provide greater dexterity. Simply put, “it has to be something the worker is willing to wear,” Shamis says.


“What we can demonstrate with studies is that some of these lighter, more dexterous gloves actually improve the rate at which the worker can work, allowing for increased productivity for the worker and speeding up of production lines,” he reports. “The right glove can actually pay for itself through productivity improvements,” he adds.

Combining materials, often high-molecular polyethylenes, “can really start driving that thinness, that comfort and that protection to places that were unheard of 20 years ago,” Shamis says. For example, spun Dyneema, which he says “has a great feel against the hand,” is being used on the inside of gloves with fibres that provide cut protection on the outside.

Typically, a material such as fibreglass serves as the core of the yarn and is wrapped with a more comfortable material, explains Michael Everett, general manager of Showa Best Glove, Inc. in Coaticook, Quebec.


The market demand for lightweight gloves was such that DuPont Protection Technologies launched a facility this October that uses Kevlar fibre technology to produce a fine, thin and comfortable lightweight yarn for cut-resistant gloves, says Melissa Helpinstill, global marketing manager for cut protection at DuPont Protection in Richmond, Virginia.

“This will allow us to work on joint innovations with our partners on blending the finer, lightweight Kevlar yarns with other materials and see what constructions we can come up with to help support the market needs,” Helpinstill reports.

Joe Geng, vice-president of Superior Glove Works Ltd. in Acton, Ontario, points to the marriage of Kevlar and fibreglass. “That improves cut resistance without impacting the comfort,” Geng suggests. In addition, the effective twosome “can bring the cost of the glove down a little bit too.”

Depending on price points and the level of cut protection needed, Helpinstill says purchasers have a range of gloves from which to choose. She points out that 100-per-cent Kevlar gloves offer a mid-range level of cut protection, with that increasing when Kevlar is blended with steel or fibreglass. Mostly cotton or nylon blends, with a bit of Kevlar, offer minimal protection.

Cut hazards are present in many work environments, but some misinformation around protection persists, Geng says.

Helpinstill notes “there’s a fallacy in that you can wear a cotton or leather glove and have some level of cut protection, which really isn’t true.”

Geng says customers in North America can look to the American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association’s ANSI/ISEA 105 standard, which includes a chart that rates material performance. There is also a standard from the European Committee for Standardization, namely EN 388, he adds.

Emphasizing the “huge difference between the two,” Geng notes that imported gloves may be certified to EN 388, but manufacturers in North America may present the products as though they were certified to ANSI/ISEA 105.

To address any confusion over ratings, which may be jurisdiction-specific, DuPont plans to lobby standard committees in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to create one global, cut protection standard. “We want to make sure the end-user is wearing the right stuff and to do that, they need to be educated and they need to have one standard they can point to and use,” Helpinstill contends.


“We can build a glove that is extremely cut resistant,” says Shamis, but adds that these “may be so cumbersome that the worker can’t perform his job. In cases of a minor level of hazard, that cut protection would be overkill.”

Recent advancements related to dexterity and comfort have helped. “Where you used to have to take off your gloves to loosen nuts and bolts, you can now leave them on and do that task effectively,” Shamis notes.

Geng says it is amazing to him “how many people wear gloves that are really uncomfortable just because that’s what they’ve always been wearing and they haven’t really looked at different options.”

Those hand protection options are as numerous and varied as the work-related hazards gloves are meant to guard against. Information from Edmonton-based Bob Dale Gloves & Imports Ltd. cites various factors to bear in mind when choosing hand protection, including the following:

– type of work — glove dexterity may be an essential feature for the duties performed;
– weather and outdoor temperature — gear should suit the warmth and breathability level required;
– type of liquids that may be involved; and,
– specific hazards — such as metal, glass, machinery, abrasive materials, heat, flame or sparks.

Polymer-coated gloves for chemical and splash resistance should be used in places like petroleum facilities and plant maintenance operations, the information advises. For work settings such as sheet metal plants and bottle and glass handling, cut- and slash-resistant gloves would be necessary.

If a cut-chemical combo is the issue, there are cut-resistant gloves with various chemical-resistant coatings for use in automotive manufacturing, fabrication facilities and injection moulding operations, the information adds.

To address both cut and chemical hazards, Everett says that Showa Best Glove is working on a liquid-proof polyvinyl chloride (PVC) glove with Kevlar on the inside that can be used by workers who refuel or deliver fuel for airplanes or households. The glove will feature electrostatic dissipative properties, also useful for the oil industry, he notes.

“They’ve got a concern about sparks, so there are gloves out there that will not burn,” Everett says. “In this case, this glove will not create the spark at all,” he adds.

Many jobs demand protection against chemicals — think janitors who work with many cleaners, maintenance workers who use solvents to loosen bolts, and pharmaceutical laboratory workers who mix and prepare chemical substances.

Shamis reports that the most commonly used materials include natural rubber, nitrile, PVC, polyvinyl acetate or alcohol, butyl and Viton — each of these offering protection against different families of chemicals. While difficult to generalize, Geng cites as one example that PVC gloves are often used around acids and bases; nitrile could protect against oils or fuels.

“The higher the hazard, the easier it is to convince the worker to wear protective gloves,” Shamis says. “Where we see more of an issue is with the less hazardous chemicals.”

However, things seem to be changing for the better. “We are seeing the work force come to grips with the understanding that even the mid-tier and lower-tier chemicals require chemical protection,” Shamis reports.


Sometimes hazards are specific, demanding a specialty glove; other times, needs are less defined, with general purpose gloves that provide some protection against heat or cold, vibration, sparks and impact nicely fitting the bill.

Martin Moore, president of Watson Gloves in Burnaby, British Columbia, says one of the company’s offerings is a glove he calls the “Drill Sergeant.”

Offering back-of-the-hand protection, glove features include heavy-duty rubber on the fingers and knuckles, hooded fingertips, a PVC-reinforced patch in the thumb crotch area and a soft deerskin-reinforced palm, notes a product information sheet.

Moore says the gear is well-suited for oil and tar extraction, road work and forestry, where drill bits, chains and swinging booms may be present, as well as in steel plants and machine shops.

“The general labour guys have to have protection on the back of the hand, so we’ve incorporated the heavy plastics and different polyurethane foams,” he reports. “A lot of times on gloves, the only protective part is the palm area.”


Grip is another area of hand protection that continues to progress, Shamis says, which can help boost both productivity and safety. “The better grip you have on the knife, and the more secure it is, the less chance you have of getting cut in the first place,” he says.

Geng says sandy grip is one new type that is becoming increasingly popular. By infusing a nitrile coating with millions of tiny pores, oils and liquids get displaced when pressed against smooth surfaces, creating a kind of suction with minimum effort, notes a product sheet from Superior Gloves.

This micropore nitrile technology offers good grip in oil and good abrasion resistance compared with foam nitrile coating, Geng says.

The company is also working to identify the best blend to achieve “the optimal level of flame resistance and cut resistance” in a glove for the oil and gas sector. “Sometimes it’s a trade-off,” Geng says. “When you add this yarn, it goes down in cut resistance, but increases in flame. It’s almost like you are cooking with different ingredients.”

Many PPE manufacturers are also looking to fashion and sports apparel for cues on the latest styles, which can be adapted for the PPE market, Shamis says. “When people are content with their appearance in PPE, it follows that they will be more likely to wear it. Driving compliance is crucial, because workers can’t be protected if they don’t use the proper PPE,” he adds.


Test Pattern

Equipment buyers should understand there are different performance standards for hand protection. Two of these employ distinctly different test methods, advises Joe Geng, vice-president of Superior Glove Works Ltd. in Acton, Ontario.

With the American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association’s standard (ANSI/ISEA 105), Geng reports that a swath of the glove is cut and taped to a piece of metal curved in the shape of a hand. A razor blade is put to the fabric, using different loads. The higher the load applied without cutting the fabric, the better the cut resistance.

A chart in the standard rates performance levels from 0 to 5 based on the weight, in grams (g), needed to cut through with 25 millimetres of blade travel: 0 — less than 199 g; 1 — 200 to 499 g; 2 — 500 to 999 g; 3 — 1,000 to 1,499 g; 4 — 1,500 to 3,499 g; and 5 — greater than 3,500 g.

The European Committee for Standardization’s EN 388 standard uses a round blade — “kind of like a pizza cutter,” Geng says — to measure resistance to abrasion, blade cut, tears and punctures, again based on a 0 to 5 scale. The blade is used to apply circles until it cuts through the fabric. Results are then compared using a “standard” piece of cotton.

“There’s a huge difference between the two,” Geng says of the standards. The confusing part for an end-user is that “they are testing to one or the other, so a lot of people are picking the wrong glove.”

Heat Advisory

For certain types of work and work environments, heat-resistant gloves will be essential.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton, Ontario offers some guidance on how to select the best product for the conditions:

– Zetex or asbestos gloves for temperatures of 350-plus degrees Celsius;
– Nomex, Kevlar, neoprene-coated asbestos and heat-resistant leather with linings for medium-high temperatures
– (as much as 350 C);
– Nomex, Kevlar, heat-resistant leather and terry cloth for warm temperatures (as high as 200 C); and,
– chrome-tanned leather or terry cloth for temperatures of as much as 100 C.


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