Cutting to the Chase in Hand Protection

How should you decide which gloves will best protect your workers from cut and puncture hazards?

Travis Watson watched as a rigger checked a cable for frayed wires. The worker was wearing a coated fabric glove that had what was then considered a high puncture-protection rating. But suddenly, as the worker slid his hand along the cable, a piece of wire went right through the glove and laid open a large portion of the worker’s palm.

Witnessing that tragedy several years back launched Watson into a quest for better hand safety that continues to this day, in his role as subcontractor safety programs manager at UCOR LLC in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

“That incident took everybody by surprise,” said Watson. “In reality, it turned out that particular glove offered almost no puncture protection. So, that led us into a journey to understand ratings and how the ratings are determined.”

A quick look at injury stats shows why it’s vital to make hand protection an integral part of workplace safety culture. More than 43 percent of nonfatal occupational injuries to upper extremities in 2018 involving days away from work in private industry involved hands, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plus, a hand injury can cost from $540 to $26,000, according to the National Safety Council. Think about lost productivity, workers comp and liability insurance costs.

OSHA reports that 71 percent of hand and arm injuries could have been prevented with personal protective equipment, specifically safety gloves. Yet, 70 percent of workers don’t wear hand protection. And of those who do, 30 percent don’t wear the right kind of glove for the task. Making the right procurement choices—and making hand safety a top priority—can help drive those numbers down.

Updated Standards
Julianne Gietzen, director of product management at HexArmor in Grand Rapids, Mich., notes that there’s still some confusion among company safety managers about the industry standards governing safety gloves because both domestic and international standards have evolved over time.

In 2016, the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) updated ANSI/ISEA 105-2011 with a new approach to defining a glove’s level of cut resistance. While ANSI/ISEA 105-2011 used a scale of one to five to indicate a glove’s cut resistance rating, ANSI/ ISEA 105-2016 replaced that scale with nine levels, defined as A1 through A9. Generally speaking, those nine levels can be thought of in three groupings:

  • Levels A1, A2 and A3 offer protection against scrapes.
  • Levels A4, A5 and A6 offer protection against injuries for which stitches would be required.
  • Levels A7, A8 and A9 offer protection against the most serious injuries.

To address needle-stick hazards, ANSI/ISEA 105- 2016 also incorporated ASTM F2878, Standard Test Method for Protective Clothing Material Resistance to Hypodermic Needle Puncture.

Watson says the 2016 transition to the new ratings was hard for some people to grasp but led to a superior approach. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question: What should we get for our workers? Every glove manufacturer and distributor has its own approach to working with end users on determining which glove provides the best solution for a specific hazard present in a particular workplace. Generally, the best companies use a consultative and collaborative approach for determining the best mix of hand-protection solutions.

“We take a holistic approach to save the customer money,” said Keith Henderson, national accounts manager at Bob Dale Gloves in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “We really believe in protecting people, so we invest the time and effort to make sure the right solution is brought to the table.”

Henderson adds that each company has its own pain points as well as top desired benefits when searching for hand-protection solutions. Sometimes the safety director will be looking to reduce costs while streamlining hand-protection effectiveness.

“Safety managers in a company with a good safety culture work with their end users to make sure a product will be a good fit and actually be worn,” Gietzen said. “They don’t want to buy something the workers aren’t going to wear. They also need to understand the difference between a performance glove and a commodity glove.”

Prevention is actually the most important step to start with, said Mike Myrick, product manager at Collierville, Tennessee-based MCR Safety. “Engineer out the hazard and have proper training,” he said. “An unguarded machine creates a safety hazard.”

He adds that there’s no such thing as a completely cut-proof or puncture-proof glove.

“A glove doesn’t make you superhuman,” Myrick said. “But good cut and puncture protection is a common-sense investment, since spending money upfront to prevent such an expensive injury will deliver long-term cost savings.

Proactive & Balanced Safety
Being proactive about safety is always better than being reactive. ISEA-member suppliers will typically go out of their way to help educate any company regardless of where it’s at on the journey toward better safety.

“Sometimes we don’t get a call until it’s too late,” Gietzen said. “Something has happened at a company, and that’s often what spurs it to embrace change.”

As Watson recalls, prior to the injury he witnessed several years ago, the employees, supervisors and even safety team members had initially been more focused on cut rather than puncture hazards— and it was hard to find the protection rating on a glove back then.

“A lot of [glove] companies are doing a better job of labeling and including the protection levels for different types of hazards,” Watson said.

Watson also notes that end users need to look closely at a supplier’s spec sheet to understand not only the level of protection, but also what part of the hand that level applies to. Don’t assume that a glove protects all parts of the hand equally. For example, he says, a glove might have a protection level of A8 for the palm, while the fingers and back of the hand might have a rating of A4.

Those differences stem from the trade-off, as Watson puts it, between safety and dexterity. A glove can’t prevent all injuries, but rather has to balance usability and safety. Lack of dexterity can lead to hand fatigue and other types of injuries (such as from dropping an object), as well, he notes.

“When you reduce dexterity, you trade one hazard for another,” Watson said. “As safety professionals, we have to educate ourselves about the hazards we can truly protect against and in some cases think in terms of PPE reducing the severity of injuries when elimination has not been achievable with the hierarchy of controls.”

 

The takeaway here for safety managers is that choosing the right hand protection is a nuanced and complex process—and taking the time to do it well is vital. As Mark Bateman, director of sales at Bob Dale Gloves, warns: Beware of rogue suppliers who just show up with a box of gloves to try out. The best companies in the industry go out of their way to listen closely to prospective customers, reality-check their needs, and offer in-depth education based on the latest industry standards.

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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