OHS Canada Magazine

Hands most vulnerable to workplace injury

Gloves an essential form of personal protective equipment

April 6, 2017
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By Jeff Cottrill

Of all the body parts that can get injured in many jobs, the hands are among the most vulnerable. Laceration, burns, even impact and pressure are some of the ways in which workers can hurt their hands.

That is why safety gloves are an essential form of personal protective equipment (PPE) for worksites across many industries.

The automotive, manufacturing and oil and gas industries are three of the biggest markets for safety gloves, Cut-resistant gloves are especially important in industries that involve blades or other sharp objects, while gloves designed to protect against impact are useful in the oil and gas sector. For assembly-line jobs and oil-and-gas work, there are gloves with palm coating to enhance the grip, making such gloves useful in work conditions that are oily and wet or in jobs that require handling small parts.

Depending on the product and its application, safety gloves consist of a variety of materials. Kevlar, DSM Dyneema or stainless steel are often used to make up cut-resistant gloves, while anti-impact or anti-vibration gloves might use Kevlar, nitrile or leather. Gloves that are designed for chemical protection may consist of latex, rubber or plastic.

The right level

Cut-resistant gloves offer different levels of protection, ranging from level one to nine, as classified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in Washington, D.C. The level of cut protection depends on the force required to cut through the glove material, as measured via the mass of the cutting object in grams (g). For example, a protection of level nine is strong enough to resist up to 6,000 g of cutting pressure, whereas a level-one glove can be cut by only 200 to 499 g.

Industries that usually require higher levels of cut protection include aerospace, metal stamping, metal recycling, pulp and paper and those in which workers handle sharp objects, according to Terry Smith, the national sales and marketing manager with SHOWA, Inc. in Coaticook, Quebec. “Recycling could be another one,” he adds. “It could be in printing presses, glass manufacturing as well.” Professions that use lower levels of cut protection include packaging, material handling, small-parts assembly and forest reconstruction. Employers also need to take workers’ comfort into account, as employees are far more likely to wear PPE that fits them well and comfortably.

Deep impact

Unlike cut-resistant gloves, employers have a smaller range of options when it comes to gloves that protect against impact or vibration, as the number of companies that can manufacture approved or certified anti-vibration gloves is limited. Anti-impact gloves are a relatively new development, but they have become more common in oil and gas in recent years, replacing the standard cotton gloves.

Ansell Healthcare LLC in Iselin, New Jersey understands the importance of hand protection in the oil and gas industry. The company’s safety gloves for oil workers include products that shield against cuts and abrasions, impact and chemicals. Its Hyflex line of gloves offers a mix of safety, flexibility and performance, and they are also washable, according to Jason Kokoszka, Ansell’s associate director for mechanical protection. “You want to make sure they properly fit, they are wearing the correct glove for the application and you can launder gloves.”

Cost versus quality

Unlike other types of PPE, safety gloves tend to have a high turnover rate, especially cut-resistant gloves, which become unreliable once they have accumulated some wear and tear. “When the glove begins to wear, you want to make sure that you replace it, so you are continuing to protect yourself at the highest level,” Smith says.

For gloves designed to protect from chemicals, it is possible to extend their lifespan by rinsing them after every use. “For general-purpose gloves, you could certainly launder them, but there are certain laundering procedures to use,” Smith advises. As a general rule, it is time to replace a pair of gloves whenever the wear on them becomes evident.

The frequent replacement of safety gloves also invites the question of whether it is wise for an employer to buy cheaper gloves to save money. But cutting corners around costs may compromise employees’ safety. Kokoszka agrees that quality is a more important factor to consider than cost. “If you are wearing a cheaper glove and it is less expensive, the majority of the time, you are just going to be churning through those.”

Since comfort is an important factor, today’s safety-glove manufacturers are always looking for ways to produce thinner, more flexible cut-resistant gloves without sacrificing protection.

“The biggest trend is looking for a thinner glove with higher protection,” says Kokoszka, who notes that Ansell has been manufacturing thinner gloves with what he calls “a second-skin feel,” but with high cut levels.

Some companies are now mixing cut-resistant fibres, like Dyneema or Kevlar, with glass, fibreglass or steel to make them stronger without increasing the bulk or thickness. The gloves are easy to wear, without limiting dexterity, so it fits comfortably, but still has high cut resistance.”

Another current trend is safety gloves that are more environmentally friendly, which is particularly important when so many used gloves wind up in landfills. SHOWA, for example, created the world’s first 100 per cent biodegradable safety glove a few years ago. Today, the company has five biodegradable glove products on the market.

“You could throw them in the garbage, and when they hit the landfill site, the microorganisms start to work and they will break down the glove,” Smith explains.

With improvements in technology come changes in performance standards for classification and testing. ANSI’s levels for cut-resistant gloves are part of ANSI/ISEA 105-2016, or the American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification, which was updated last year. This standard also includes performance ranges for chemical protection and impact resistance. Recent changes include the expansion of classification levels to address gaps and follow approaches used in other international standards, as well as a single, universal test method to standardize ratings.

Jeff Cottrill is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News.

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