Living on the Sharp Edge

In the past, cut-resistant gloves were treated as a commodity, with little training and education of wearers. Now, the emphasis is on information and communication.

Companies specifying safety gloves can do so only once they have assessed the risks their workers face and determined the level of hand protection they need. This may sound simple enough, but making sense of safety standards and how they apply to everyday industrial situations is rarely straightforward. In the case of cut-resistant (CR) gloves, with different standards and test methodologies applying to them around the world, buyers and safety managers are strongly advised to seek out expert advice to ensure they make the right decision.

In this magazine's April 2009 issue ("The Index Enigma"), Giovanni Henssen went into some detail about ASTM, ISO, and EN (European) standards for CR gloves. It showed that while each is valid in its own right, the potential for confusion exists when specifications have to make reference to more than one standard. This is often the case with companies operating in different countries around the world. There are also subtle but important differences between current and previous standards of which they may not be aware.

A key fact highlighted in the article is that when a buyer sees a safety glove labeled as performing to a particular level (between 1 and 5), he or she must understand which standard is being referenced: A glove with a Level 3 rating under the current ASTM standard, for example, may have important performance differences from one with an EN Level 3 rating or even from a glove tested under the 1997 version of the ASTM.

Kevin Bush of Indiana Safety works with an important principle in mind: "A lot of vendors will offer alternatives based only on cost. We focus on getting the right balance of protection and comfort for users," he said. "Our aim is to reduce injuries, improve safety, and improve comfort. And if we get this right, it can help reduce overall spend."

Bush said Indiana Safety starts from a safety standpoint and gets close to its customers to assess the hazards and protection needs properly.

Initial discussions typically look at the cut level customers are using to see whether there is overkill or too little protection. Good communication and accurate information are vital to making the right choice. Options are narrowed down to a shortlist of two or three gloves that would work, and these are then tested rigorously with at least 20 people for a week or more, depending on the customer situation. Once safety performance requirements are met, a cost analysis and injuries reduction calculation is conducted.

Comfort is absolutely crucial, Bush said. When the glove is more comfortable, has increased dexterity, and is light and cool for the wearer, that worker will use it more happily and more often. Thus, if protection is improved and the comfort of the employee is enhanced, safety performance is achieved more easily.

Bush, whose father began manufacturing gloves in 1967, said today's market is much more educated than before. In the past, gloves were treated as a commodity, with little training and education of wearers. Now, the emphasis is on data and information, and communication and sharing of information needs to work among customers, vendors, and manufacturers.

Comfort Ranks with Cut Resistance

Valeo is a well-known producer of components and systems for the automotive industry, with operations on several continents. It works with a wide range of process technologies and produces engine radiators and condensers at a site employing about 800 team members. Environmental, Health, and Safety Engineer Tracy McIntosh of Valeo Engine Cooling in Greensburg, Ind., said the work carried out in the assembly departments demands manual dexterity, but the aluminum sheet metal used in the operations has razor-sharp edges. Historically, most reported injuries were hand lacerations, and as a result, CR gloves are now used throughout the plant.

Gloves previously used at the company had little cut resistance, providing protection from oils alone. Since Mc- Intosh moved into his role at the beginning of 2007, exclusive use has been made of CR gloves made from ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene fiber.

McIntosh joined Valeo from outside the automotive sector and had little experience with safety gloves, so he depended heavily on vendor sales representatives to provide him with the necessary information. He contacted several representatives of companies that already were supplying other safety products used at Valeo and reviewed five types of gloves. One glove stood out. Working with his vendor during this process allowed his team to determine the correct level of protection related to the particular work hazards in those departments, which was the key to determining the right glove for the jobs, he said.

McIntosh made sure to counsel Valeo personnel in the decision-making process because "they are the ones that need to use them day in and day out," he said. The operators appreciated the fit, comfort, and durability of the gloves, as well as their essential cut resistance. Consideration was also given to how well the gloves survive repeated washing in the laundry.

Operators need little persuasion to wear the gloves, he noted, and there is little time lost replacing used ones, McIntosh said.

Improved safety generally pays for itself over time, but some buying departments may look only at the original investment. McIntosh said the gloves he wanted are among the most expensive, so the likely cost savings needed to be well presented before purchase approval was forthcoming. The gloves he chose initially cost around six times more, but they last for at least a week, while the workers had been going through at least three pairs per day of the gloves they previously used.

Greater Durability Cuts Costs

Mike Kissell, director of Human Resources and Safety for Choice Fabricators Inc. (CFI) in Rainbow City, Ala., said protective gloves are used throughout its operations because every worker on the shop floor is handling metal pieces at some point. CFI employs more than 300 people in a 298,000-squarefoot facility that has operations for stamping, welding, assembling, and painting metal parts, mostly for the appliance industry. It also supplies the auto industry.

Kissell, who has been with the company for about four years, said CFI began using its current CR gloves in early 2008, sourcing two different types from two different glove makers; both were supplied through the same vendor. CFI had been using medium-weight gloves made with an aramid fiber, and Kissell was interested in looking at alternatives to ensure they had made the right choice. The company went through test procedures with several other types of glove, looking in particular at their level of protection and durability and how comfortable they were for the operatives.

The new gloves provide an all-round better performance, Kissell said. Whereas operatives were having to change their previous gloves after three and five hours of use, the current gloves last as long as four days. Cost savings had already amounted to around $60,000, Kissell said, noting the new gloves perform consistently over time, with little drop-offin performance. They are replaced when they become abraded and tear or when they become too contaminated with oil.

Fewer Laceration Injuries Reported

Valeo has been using its new gloves since early 2008. As of May 2009, there had been only one hand laceration, and it resulted more from operator error than any inherent defect in the glove. By contrast, throughout 2007, of 88 injuries reported at three plants, just over half were hand lacerations.

At CFI, Kissell has seen hand injuries reduced by as much as 98 percent. Injury-related absenteeism is also lower. The extra comfort of the gloves is likely to have a lot to do with this; the most cut-resistant glove in the world is of no use if the operator won't wear it.

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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