Hand protection, usually in the form of safety gloves, is a major part of the world of personal protective equipment (PPE) for work. It is easy to see why; hands are essential to almost every job out there, and they are vulnerable to serious injury in a vast scope of sectors, from construction and forestry to the automotive sector, metal manufacturing and steel mills.
But there is more to protecting an employee’s hands than just buying any random pair of safety gloves. Different products are designed for different risks. To guard against cuts and lacerations, it is often best to go with gloves made out of Kevlar or DSM Dyneema — and there are different numbered levels of cut protection to consider as well. Kevlar is also a popular material for anti-vibration gloves, as are leather and nitrile, while chemical-resistant gloves often contain latex, rubber or plastics.
So what is the first step in seeking the right safety gloves? “The most important thing is that the glove is doing what they need it to do,” says Eric Lehtinen, president of Impacto Protective Products Inc. in Belleville, Ontario. “It’s important for the company to know what their particular application requires,” he continues, “and to really put the onus on whoever they’re buying the product from, but ultimately on the manufacturer of the glove, to make sure that they’re proving to them that that product meets the standards that they expect.”
For example, not all job applications require gloves with Level 5 cut protection. “If they don’t, then they have a lot more choices,” Lehtinen adds. “But if they do, for example, need that kind of protection, put the onus on the manufacturer to say, ‘Yeah, this glove has met the standard, and here’s the proof of that.’”
Lehtinen knows whereof he speaks; his company has been in the specialty glove and ergonomics safety market for nearly 30 years. In that time, Impacto has expanded its roster of gloves to include variations on functionality, style, dexterity and grip.
“The company got its start manufacturing simple-design gloves to prevent things like carpel tunnel, repetitive strain and general impact injuries to the hand,” he says. As the company’s product line expanded, it began to focus more on preventing injury from impacts and vibration. “So whether that’s anti-fatigue insoles, anti-impact steel toe caps for visitors, knee pads, elbow pads, gloves, we really can offer almost head-to-toe impact and vibration protection.”
Another major name in the safety-glove market is Ansell Healthcare LLC, headquartered in Iselin, New Jersey. Ansell is the world’s largest glove manufacturer, according to Jason Kokoszka, the company’s associate director of mechanical protection.
“We sell a variety of different gloves, from your mechanical glove with high cut protection, with increased dexterity, to your impact-protection gloves for the oil and gas industry,” explains Kokoszka. “Basically, any type of glove you can imagine, Ansell manufactures.”
Kokoszka also recognizes that different applications within different sectors have different glove needs — and sometimes, different kinds of needs overlap. “You may have someone that’s working in the machinery equipment, that’s working with sharp sheet metal. Needs high cut protection, but still needs the ability to grip the sheet metal that’s being put onto the assembly line.”
Another component that is important in many professions is fire resistance, and Ansell produces its share of fire-resistant (FR) safety gloves with other protective functions. “A lot of the clothing that the end users are using in the field is FR-compliant, but not gloves,” says Kokoszka, noting that FR compliance is an important factor in the oil and gas industry. “We were one of the first glove manufacturers to come up with an FR-impact glove.”
Although safety gloves tend to be one of the more disposable forms of PPE, Lehtinen advises employers not to be too concerned with cost; quality is the factor to look for, in addition to protection against specific hazards.
“We tend to be a proponent of buying high-quality products that are going to last,” he says about Impacto. “What we try to do is make gloves that will really hold up to, in some cases, very extreme conditions, whether that’s cold weather, whether that’s oily or wet conditions. We try to offer products that will last for weeks and months, as opposed to hours.”
Comfort and dexterity are also important, Kokoszka notes. Protection is essential, but workers also need safety gloves that allow them to move their hands without difficulty or discomfort, in order to do their jobs properly.
“You’re seeing a need for a light-duty, thinner glove that’s going to give you cut protection,” he says. “In the past, you noticed that workers wore bulkier gloves, and with that, due to lack of dexterity, the gloves weren’t comfortable.” But new technologies have allowed manufacturers like Ansell to develop thinner gloves without losing protective potency.
One such technology is zones technology, which Kokoszka describes as “an innovative knitting process that uses varying stitch designs around the stress areas that actually relieve some of the hand fatigue.” The knitting also improves hand flexibility, particularly in the knuckle areas. “So through our knitting capabilities, we’re able to actually make those areas a little more flexible; you’re reducing the fatigue and also just providing all-day comfort for the worker.”
Another innovation that Ansell has developed is a built-in grip technology for work environments involving wet or oily areas, so workers’ hands aren’t slipping off those surfaces so much. Other companies across North America have created biodegradable disposable gloves, gloves dipped in additional materials for further protection, products with puncture resistance and even clips to hold safety gloves to a worker’s belt, so they don’t get lost as easily. The last product, which comes from Glove Guard LP in Highlands, Texas, has reduced the rate of glove loss for one client by 86 per cent, the company claims.
So safety gloves are a lot more complex and varied than one might guess. It is up to the employer to determine what is best suited for the work environment — and to make sure that employee safety is in good hands.
Jeff Cottrill is the editor of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News.