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A Cut Above

Jan. 5, 2012
When it comes to cut-resistant gloves, workers deserve to have it all: safety, comfort, dexterity and more.

It sounds so simple: Provide your workers with gloves that will protect their hands from cuts.

In reality, however, it’s a little more complicated – those gloves must be comfortable enough to ensure compliance, thin enough to give workers enough tactile control and versatile enough to protect against other hazards. In this article, several glove manufacturers and experts share their insight into today’s cut-resistant glove landscape and what end users should know about this personal protective equipment.

Jeff Moreland, Ph.D., technology scout at Ansell, says any glove will give the wearer some degree of protection from cuts. Many of the earliest products worn to protect against cuts were basic cotton or leather work gloves. While those gloves might be better than using nothing at all, today’s materials and designs represent a step up in protection.

Kevlar, Nomex, Twaron and Dyneema, sometimes in combination with various coatings, commonly are used in today’s cut-protective gloves. While this glove market has seen various advances and innovations in recent years, Moreland suggests, “We’re at the point now where things are leveling out as far as what’s available on the material side.”

Gil LeVerne Jr., marketing manager at Showa Best Glove, adds that even with all that is currently available to glove manufacturers, creating a cut-resistant glove that provides workers with adequate dexterity and comfort remains challenging.

“The ‘tool bag’ of fibers, filaments [and] other cut-resistant materials available to us today is significantly better than in the past, but it is still difficult to find a combination of materials that provides the dexterity and comfort the customers desire along with the highest levels of cut protection,” LeVerne points out.

It therefore is important to determine what kind of glove – and level of protection – is necessary for the specific job at hand.

Balancing Act

A glove that protects workers’ hands from cuts is good, but a glove that protects against cuts in addition to other hazards might be even better.

“What we’re finding now is people want cut protection, but they also need protection from other types of hazards,” explains Moreland.

Workers in danger of incurring cuts also might work around flames, chemicals or live electricity, so combining protection from multiple hazards in the same pair of gloves is important. But, as Moreland says, some of the materials traditionally used in cut protection may not stand up to these other hazards. Not to mention that making a glove cut-resistant could compromise dexterity or raise compliance concerns.

“A glove can provide you with a very high level of protection, but if a person has to take it off to do their job, whether through dexterity or discomfort or some other factor, then obviously it isn’t doing them any good,” Moreland says. “Trying to balance all of that into a product is definitely a challenge.”

For example, a cut-resistant glove can be coated to guard against chemicals – but if that coating is cut during work, the glove’s chemical-protective properties will be compromised. Working around electricity, meanwhile, poses a hazard from the steel wire in some cut-resistant gloves. To solve that problem, Moreland says Ansell worked to develop a new type of yarn that can protect against cut hazards and does not conduct electricity.

Of course, with so many possible options and combinations, PPE users must be on the lookout for the best glove for their needs.

“I’m still convinced that nine times out of 10, there’s probably a more appropriate, safer and cost-effective product for someone to use than what they are currently using,” says Larry Garner, chief marketing officer, MCR Safety. “Our industry has struggled at keeping the consumer educated as to the hand protection opportunities and possibilities that are available.”

Testing, Testing

Once you decide which glove is best for your workers, you have to consider its level of cut protection. But even that isn’t as simple as it sounds.

“Today, our greatest challenge with cut-protective gloves is the necessity of trying to communicate the differences that are available in levels of cut protection to the consumer,” says Garner. “There’s confusion in our industry with trying to compare different test methods.”

Garner is referring to the separate European and American testing standards used to determine cut levels for gloves. Gloves sold in Europe must reflect CE test methods, while ASTM’s five-level test often is used in the United States.

“The two different testing methods will give you a different result most of the time,” Moreland explains. “It turns out that in the European test, certain types of products always test higher than on the U.S. test. Typically, when that happens, you’ll see manufacturers only report the European test, so that’s why that one is gaining popularity. There’s no real regulation involved at this point in the U.S., so that also helps add to the confusion.”

Several efforts are in progress to clarify the testing situation, including the International Glove Association’s (IGA) certification program and the International Safety Equipment Association’s (ISEA) revised standard for hand protection selection. Overall, however, many end users still are left scratching their heads, especially when glove manufacturers aren’t clear about which testing method was used to arrive at the stated cut rating.

“EN 388, ISO 13997, ASTM F1790-97 and ASTM F1790-05 are all recognized as acceptable standards/procedures for determining cut resistant and in some cases, there is no correlation between them,” LeVerne says. “As an example, a product with level 5 cut resistance according to EN 388 and one with level 5 cut resistance determined by using the ASTM standards typically do not provide the same amount of protection. Labeling does not always clearly state which method was used to determine the level of protection.”

To clear up the confusion, these experts advise end users to know exactly what they’re purchasing – and to investigate manufacturers’ testing claims.

“Ask to see the testing data for the products,” stresses Moreland. “If they’re claiming a cut level, ask to see the data and ask to see which test and method was used to verify that it was done correctly and you’re actually purchasing what you [expect].”

Finally, Garner points out that it’s more than just a numbers game – the final goal is to ensure gloves will protect workers from the task at hand. Even if end users are well educated on a particular product’s testing specifications, “You still have to realize the real-world or specific application is the ultimate point of reference for acceptability of what will work,” he says. “Just because you get a particular score on a product is not an endorsement that you’re not going to get cut.”

The Next Step

According to Garner, the industry has seen a continual progression toward seamless knit gloves holding an increasing proportion of the cut-resistant glove market. On the positive side, these gloves tend to be comfortable and light. But if manufacturers attempt to add additional protective qualities, such as back-of-hand protection, they are met with challenges.

“The advantage of a seamless knit is obviously you don’t have any bulky seams on the inside, so you almost automatically have a better, form-fitting glove,” Garner explains. “But it’s a little more difficult to attach any materials to that glove without restricting the movement of your hand. When you start to attach materials to [the glove], you start to restrict the stretchability.”

LeVerne expects there will continue to be a push for thinner and thinner gloves that also boast the highest level of cut resistance. Of course, as Moreland explains, thinner gloves equal less protection provided by the glove’s basic materials, which means the gloves must be reinforced by fiberglass, wire or other not-so-comfortable materials.

“As you go thinner, those materials can cause skin irritation,” Moreland says. “With the trend of going thinner and thinner, we’re starting to run into issues of the fibers not providing the level of protection they should.”

Despite these challenges, it’s safe to say that as EHS professionals continue working to protect their employees’ hands, manufacturers will persist in their search for the next best thing in cut-resistant gloves.

“We are relentlessly looking for lighter weight with maximum cut resistance,” LeVerne says. “We want the wearer of our products to be as comfortable and safe from injury as absolutely possible.”

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