Two Hand Protection Trends You Won't Want to Miss

This year’s innovations in hand protection will see PPE features that benefit both worker safety and the planet.

The safety marketplace moves at a steady pace. After all … it’s safety, so there’s no running! But that doesn’t mean new innovations and technologies aren’t marching steadily forward, improving comfort, protection, usability, and even sustainability. This year, there are two trends gaining traction in the safety world that are a boon for safety managers, workers, and everyone else!

Trend No. 1: 21-Gauge Cut Resistance

A machine knit work glove’s “gauge” is the number of stitches included in each inch of material, usually between 7 and 21. The lower the gauge, the heavier the fabric. The higher the gauge, the lighter the fabric. 

The lower gauges use thicker yarn and have fewer stitches per inch, creating a looser knit with more room between the stitches. Gloves on the lower end are coarser with less dexterity, making it difficult to pick up or manipulate small objects like nuts or bolts.

The highest gauges use thinner, finer yarn and have more stitches per inch, creating a tighter knit with stitches close enough together that any room between them is invisible to the naked eye. Gloves on the higher end are softer with better dexterity, making them more comfortable in general and making it easy to perform jobs that require fine motor skills like picking up and assembling small parts.

General purpose, 21-gauge gloves without cut resistance have been available for some time as an ideal choice for jobs like material handling or assembly that don’t involve cut hazards. A new trend in PPE is adding cut resistance to those comfortable 21-gauge gloves. Coupled with palm coatings, these gloves provide solid grip along with puncture and abrasion resistance, all with the comfort and dexterity that a 21-gauge knit provides.

This is great news for industrial work, but not all 21-gauge cut-resistant offerings are the same. Some manufacturers employ a combination of an advanced fiber blend and the latest knitting technologies to provide lightweight strength and cut resistance that makes an enormous difference in comfort and usability. Wearers notice the difference the moment they put these gloves on as they experience a thinness and comfort that feels like working bare-handed and dexterity that won’t cause hand fatigue. That kind of comfort reduces compliance headaches and keeps your employees happier on the job.

So even if two different glove styles offer 21-gauge, the same level of ANSI cut resistance, and the same palm coating, one style may be significantly thinner, lighter, and more comfortable than another. It’s worth your while to ask for wear testing in your environment to let your employees decide for themselves. After all, why be less comfortable than necessary? 

Trend No. 2: Sustainable PPE and Manufacturing Practices

Another trend in protecting workers that also helps to protect everyone, is manufacturing PPE with a minimum cost to the environment. Sustainability is a popular claim, but not everyone uses the term correctly. Michigan Technological University’s College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science defines it as “the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.” That can take many different forms.

PPE products and packaging. Savvy manufacturers are looking for better ways to create and package PPE to make their products and processes more sustainable. These might include:

• Using recycled yarn polymers to make machine knit protective gloves, sleeves, and clothing.

• Minimizing waste with technology like digital leather cutting tables that map out every inch of usage before cutting to make leather gloves and clothing.

• Changing PPE packaging to use recycled or recyclable cardboard sleeves instead of plastic bags.

PPE manufacturing technologies that save water. New technologies make it possible to use more natural materials or reuse old materials in PPE production. But it doesn’t have to stop at what the items are made of. Some old processes like that for applying a micro-foam nitrile coating to gloves, wastes a shocking amount of drinkable water. Just one 40-foot container of traditional micro-foam nitrile coating uses a whole year’s worth of drinkable water for 688 people! 

The newest technologies in foam nitrile coating application use NO drinkable water at all. As a bonus, this new technique creates a coating that still resists oil and water, but is softer and more flexible than standard nitrile, while saving gallons upon gallons of fresh water. It’s a triple-win for industry, for workers, and for the planet!

Facility-wide sustainability efforts. Other sustainable practices to look for may include:

• Generating green energy to power manufacturing via solar panels or other means.

• Recycling scraps like aluminum, para-aramids, paper, cardboard, plastic, and other metals and materials to keep them out of the landfill. 

• Repairing broken items instead of discarding them to purchase more. Even something as simple as broken shipping pallets can create an enormous amount of waste from a large facility if they’re simply discarded instead of being taken apart and reassembled for reuse.

New ideas and technologies are emerging and being implemented every day. Look for a PPE supplier that’s committed to doing the right thing and is in the process of building toward the most sustainable products that will both protect your workers and keep them comfortable and compliant.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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