OHS Canada Magazine

In Good Hands

March 31, 2015
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By Jeff Cottrill

Safety gloves are a must in many dangerous professions. Workers need to protect their hands from sharp objects, machinery, hazardous materials and hard impacts, in sectors like construction, automotive work, manufacturing and forestry. With such a wide and diverse array of glove types and of companies manufacturing and selling their own products, how can employers best decide what kind of glove to get – and where?

“First and foremost, they should be looking at quality,” advises Terry Smith, national sales and marketing manager with Showa Group in Coaticook, Quebec. A cheaper product may save money for a company in the short term if the workers go through several gloves per day, he says, “but a higher-quality product, it might be $1.50 more, and it might last you six or seven days or could last you 20 days.”

The importance of quality is necessary to stress with hand protection, because purchasers often think of safety gloves as a disposable product that shouldn’t cost too much. It’s understandable that an employer who’s thinking of the bottom line will put a lot of priority on a low price. But one cannot compare the financial cost of a safety product to the many, many types of costs associated with a worker getting seriously injured.

“Many purchasers will buy what’s cheaper, which may not always be the best product available,” Smith adds. “Quality is a huge factor.”

So quality gloves will not only protect hands better – they will also last longer. But no pair of safety gloves can do its job properly unless the worker makes a habit out of wearing them at all times when they’re needed. How can manufacturers and sellers make a kind of glove that workers will want to wear?

“Comfort is key,” says Jason Kokoszka, associate director for mechanical protection with Ansell Healthcare LLC in Iselin, New Jersey. “In the past, you noticed that workers wore bulkier gloves, and with that, due to lack of dexterity, the gloves weren’t comfortable.” This discouraged workers from wearing them, which put them at a higher risk for accidents. That’s why many safety-glove manufacturers are putting a high priority on making flexible gloves that allow for manual dexterity – and that also helps workers do their jobs properly.

“You’re seeing a need for a light-duty, thinner glove that’s going to give you protection,” Kokoszka adds.

Smith agrees that physical comfort is an extremely important factor. “If your glove doesn’t fit you well, hand fatigue is a serious issue where, if your employees aren’t comfortable with what they’re wearing, they’re not going to be productive,” he points out. “If you get your glove on the employee’s hands, a happy employee’s a productive employee. This is where the quality and the comfort come into play.”

That is why both Showa and Ansell put a lot of work into making high-quality, comfortable gloves that will assist workers as much as protect them. Showa is a manufacturer with its own research and development departments, and it spends millions of dollars each year on research on how to improve its products. “Many import gloves are just knockoffs of existing products,” says Smith. “We’re not an importer.

“Our goal is always to make a quality glove,” he adds. “We’re never going to be the cheapest people out there.”

Ansell’s safety gloves use an innovative knitting process called zones technology, in which varying stitch designs around the stress areas help to reduce hand fatigue, while enhancing the flexibility of the gloves, particularly in the knuckles.

“Through our knitting capabilities,” says Kokoszka, Ansell’s products put stress on “providing all-day comfort for the worker.”

Superior Glove Works Limited, a manufacturing company that focuses exclusively on safety gloves in Acton, Ontario, also puts a lot of emphasis on high-quality gloves that fit properly while providing strong protection. Like Showa and Ansell, Superior Glove conducts its own research on innovative knitting processes that improve gloves.

One of the newest products that Superior Glove offers is the TenActiv™ composite-knit cut-resistant gloves with polyurethane palms. These gloves are made of a lint-free, continuous filament yarn with a protection strength that actually exceeds steel on an equal-weight basis. The polyurethane palms have a high friction coefficient, which means that they don’t shed, and that decreases the risk of contamination in certain jobs. Superior Glove recommends this product for construction, automotive work, aerospace work or jobs involving sharp objects like glass or sheet metal.

Another factor that employers should consider when purchasing safety gloves – probably the most obvious one – is the product’s suitability to the task or tasks in the job. Different types of gloves are designed for different types of hazards – lacerations, burns, chemicals, etc. – and there are even subcategories: cut-resistant gloves have five different levels of protection, so it’s wise to avoid paying for Level 5 protection when one needs only Level 2.

“Every company has certain specifications they need to follow, be it for cut-resistance or puncture resistance or abrasion resistance,” says Smith. “So these are all key factors that the employers need to be looking at, depending on the type of work they’re doing.”

Kokoszka says that as the world’s largest safety-glove manufacturer, Ansell produces and sells every conceivable kind of glove that’s out there. Every industry has a different protection requirement, he says, “and what Ansell prides itself on is understanding within those different industries, within the application of those industries, is what workers need to be protected.” The spectrum of relevant sectors begets a myriad of different hand-protection needs, from the standard cut and impact protection to fire-resistant gloves, Kokoszka adds.

So the wide variety of safety gloves on the market may seem intimidating to an employer who’s new to the world of occupational hand protection. But a good understanding of the job’s needs – plus an eye for high quality, comfort and easy dexterity – can make help to narrow the search down efficiently.

“Just a comfortable, well-fitting glove is of importance,” says Smith.

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

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