Testing multiple places on the fingers is crucial to properly protecting workers because it reflects the reality of how end-users really experience workplace injuries.

ISEA 138: Raising the Standard for Hand Impact Protection

The standard is specifically designed for industrial gloves and the special protection they offer to workers.

The bones and soft tissues in the back of the hand are all vulnerable to impact injuries, varying from bumps and bruises to severe bone fractures. Many people mistakenly believe that hand impact injuries only affect a narrow range of industries, such as the offshore oil and gas sector, mining, and construction. In reality, the market is much wider, with impact-related injuries also being a common danger for manufacturing, warehouse, and transport workers.

To protect workers from impact hazards, personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers produce a wide range of gloves to protect people, with new designs and materials constantly entering the market. In the last two years there has been an explosion of gloves with dorsal TPR protection. Yet there is either: little differentiation between the materials used for impact protection or performance claims that can't be readily validated.

While some of these gloves include some sort of performance claims, to date there has been no commonly agreed performance standard or test method in North America for dorsal (back of hand) impact protection.

As a result, the market for impact gloves has expanded dramatically in recent years, driven in part by advances in technology and the range of materials available. However, those developments have caused a certain amount of misunderstanding and confusion. To take one example, a wide range of materials used in gloves claim to provide impact protection, many of which come under the umbrella term TPR. Yet TPR is a generic term that encompasses a broad range of materials. It means a wide range of gloves may all be labelled TPR but have very different performance attributes.

The absence of any objective performance standard creates a serious challenge for the professionals responsible for selecting appropriate PPE for industrial workers. With so many different products on the market, how do they evaluate and assess the quality of the impact protection offered?

The main consequence of the lack of any useful "measuring stick" for those gloves is to reduce the ability of end-users to choose the right protection for their workforces in a cost-effective way. At best, this results in market confusion; at worst, it can result in under- or over-specification of gloves, incurring unnecessary expense for companies or leaving workers vulnerable to injury.

A Market First
There is a hand protection standard in North America. However, the existing ANSI/ISEA 105: 2016, American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification focuses on cut, abrasion, tear, and puncture performance and does not address the threat from impact.

Until recently, the European industrial glove market was in a similar position. This changed in 2016, however, with revision of the EN 388 gloves standard. EN 388: 2016 Protective gloves against mechanical risks included an impact testing element for the first time.

Now, for the first time in the United States, leading glove manufacturers and material suppliers such as D3O have come together to collaborate in developing a new voluntary standard from the International Safety Equipment Association—ISEA, an American National Standards Institute-accredited standards developing organization.

ISEA 138, American national standard for performance and classification for impact resistant hand protection, aims to improve on the fairly limited treatment of impact performance recently incorporated into the main European hand protection standard, EN 388. That standard took its cues from an existing motorcycle impact standard for hand protection. The ISEA 138 standard, by contrast, is specifically designed for industrial gloves and the special protection they offer to workers.

Work on producing the new standard has been under way since 2016. It is being carried out by a specialist subgroup of ISEA's long-established hand protection group and is on track to be published by the end of the year. The impact standard working group includes representatives from seven major glove manufacturers, as well as materials experts D3O and input from a physician who specializes in plastic and reconstructive hand surgery.

The degree of collaboration and agreement within the group has been fantastic and reflects the market’s appetite for change. The primary focus throughout the whole development process has been to produce a new standard that is simple, practicable, and easy for end-users to understand.

Industry-Accepted Criteria
The proposed ISEA 138 standard will, for the first time in the United States, provide industry-accepted test criteria to measure how effectively different dorsal impact protective gloves reduce peak impact force across the hand.

It will be a stand-alone document that focuses on impact performance while also aiming to complement the cut, abrasion, puncture, and tear components of the existing ANSI/ISEA 105: 2016 document.

The planned standard will:

  • define an agreed test method;
  • include defined performance levels;
  • specify a pictogram mark for each of the defined levels for compliant gloves;
  • and require that product be tested in a laboratory having a certificate of accreditation meeting the requirements in ISO/IEC 17025:2017, General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.

Unlike EN 388, which specifies a pass or fail for impact, the defined ISEA 138 levels will give greater choice and flexibility to the end-user. Having a scale of performance levels help them make a choice that meet the needs of their workforce, giving them the confidence to choose protective gloves that are appropriate to the level of hazard or risk they encounter.

The standard will provide a reliable starting point to which end-users can then apply all the variables affecting their specific workforce, tasks, working environments, and budgets.

Preventing Real-Life Injuries
The oil and gas sector, which is a large user of impact protection gloves, has collected figures through the International Association of Drilling Contractors showing that in 2016, the fingers remained the most vulnerable part of the body in terms of both lost time and recordable injuries.

Injuries to fingers accounted for one-third of all total recordable injuries and almost 20 per cent of lost-time injuries. Meanwhile, the hand/wrists accounted for around 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Currently, EN 388 covers only the knuckles, but the new ISEA 138 standard will include knuckles and fingers, which is critical for industrial glove users where the fingers are frequently at risk.

Testing multiple places on the fingers is crucial to properly protecting workers because it reflects the reality of how end-users really experience workplace injuries.

Because the working group was keen to ensure the final standard was accurately aimed at reducing the most common impact injuries at work, it brought in Dr. Lloyd Champagne, a surgeon based in Phoenix who focuses on plastic and reconstructive hand surgery. His role was to advise on the real-life injuries he sees in hand trauma practice.

Those statistics, combined with the expertise and experience that Dr. Champagne was able to bring to the table, means we now have a proposed standard that uses real evidence to identify and protect against the most common risks.

Next Steps
The draft standard is still working its way through the development process, which will include a final vote by an external group of industry stakeholders that includes test labs, subject-matter experts, manufacturers, government agencies, and representatives from the end-user community. If the next steps stay on schedule, the standard will be published by ANSI by the end of 2018.

Once this happens, it will be up to the industry to inform and educate end users about what it means, how to differentiate between different products and levels of protection, and how it will help improve workplace protection.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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