The Right Winter Glove for Cold and Wet Applications

The Right Winter Glove for Cold and Wet Applications

Wearing the wrong glove in cold, harsh environments can have severe consequences.

People who work in cold and wet conditions must endure extra hardships, especially when compared to indoor office workers. During the winter, outdoor workers are challenged by air temperature, wind speed, snow, sleet, rain and ice.

Just think about utility workers and linemen working through grueling ice storms and other inclement weather to restore the power grid. Or what about truckers, first responders and snow plough drivers who battle harsh weather conditions to bring food and water to us, to protect us and to clear our roads?

Outdoor workers go out on a limb for us during the winter. Safety pros should provide quality PPE to keep workers warm and dry, especially when it comes to selecting high-performance winter work gloves.

Wearing the wrong glove in cold and harsh environments is often dangerous and can hinder productivity and job satisfaction. In extreme conditions, hypothermia or frostbite can harm fingers and hands within minutes.

This article explores several questions and factors to help safety pros match the winter glove to the cold weather application. It also includes information on the EN 511 performance rating that tests how well a winter glove will stand up to the cold and to water. Knowing more about this standard will lead to more informed glove choices.

Seven Questions to Ponder

Here are seven key questions that every safety professional needs to think about before specifying winter gloves.

Your answers will help point the way to the proper glove.

  1. What are the typical cold-weather temperatures that your crew is routinely exposed to? Are they average-cool temperatures or are they bone-chilling temperatures? Don’t forget to consider wind chill. Understanding typical temperature ranges and wind chill will help determine the weight of the glove’s insulation.
  2. Is rain or snow common? Or does the job require that workers use their hands in water, ice, refrigeration or other slushy and wet conditions? If “yes,” waterproof winter gloves are needed.
  3. What is the activity level of the worker? Less activity means more insulation, whereas higher activity levels need less insulation.
  4. Does the glove fit the workers hands? Proper fit is paramount, especially if the glove is worn for extended hours. Before purchasing a glove, secure some samples from your PPE supplier and encourage your workers to try on the gloves. This encourages worker buy-in. Make sure the glove is offered in a full range of sizes so you can properly outfit your crew.
  5. Will the worker need to pick up small parts or components? If so, the glove needs to be engineered with a high-gauge fiber. Remember, the higher the glove gauge, the better the dexterity.
  6. What other features are needed for your application? Do you need heavy-duty palms that resist ripping or tearing? Nail guards? High visibility to keep worker hands visible in dark and low light conditions?
  7. In addition to cold stress, what other occupational hazards are present? Does the worker need protection from cuts or abrasion? FR protection? Impact resistance? Is a firm grip required to prevent dropped objects? If multiple hazards are present, you will need to choose a winter glove that meets these criteria too.

What are the Top Three Features of a Good Winter Glove?

In addition to asking questions, determining how well the glove satisfies the features below is important. Does the glove offer:

  • A water-repellent outer coating or material that provides water resistance and wind repellence?
  • An insulating liner that traps air for warmth and offers moisture-wicking capabilities?
  • Comfort and a good fit?

Keeping the Water Out

Recognizing the differences between water-resistant and waterproof gloves is critical, especially if workers submerge their hands in water and liquids. Understanding the temporary nature of water-repellent coatings is essential too.

Both “water-resistant” and “waterproof” designate the degree to which rain is blocked from penetrating the glove.

A water-resistant glove is considered the lowest level of water protection because it does not prevent the water or moisture from seeping into the glove. Its level of protection is limited and is easily breached. However, water does take longer to seep into a glove with a water-resistant coating when compared to a glove without this coating.

Water-resistant gloves are appropriate when exposure to wet conditions is minimal. You would not want to specify a water-resistant winter glove if the worker is routinely exposed to cold and wet conditions for extended periods of time or if submerging the glove in water is required.

Water-repellant gloves have a specially treated surface coating that repels moisture or water. Although not easily breached by water, water-repellant coatings wear out over time, diminishing their effectiveness.

A waterproof glove is impermeable to water, acting as a waterproof barrier to keep rain, sleet and snow from penetrating the glove. It offers the highest level of protection from water because it is not easily breached. Gloves that are fully coated with nitrile, PVC or latex provide a waterproof barrier.

Tricky. Tricky. Insulation in Winter Gloves is a Balancing Act.

Finding the proper weight and type of glove insulation can be tricky. If you choose a glove with too much insulation, workers can’t move their fingers, and dexterity is tossed to the curb. Plus, workers may overheat.

On the other hand, if the insulating liner is too thin, the worker gets chilled, fingers turn numb and productivity is compromised.

Why is insulation so important in winter gloves? It blocks radiant heat loss by trapping air, and air is a good insulator. By trapping air, the glove retains thermal energy, keeping hands warm and toasty even when it's freezing. However, the insulated winter glove needs to be able to trap air without trapping moisture; otherwise, sweaty palms become an issue.

Many top-tier PPE manufacturers offer gloves with 3M™ Thinsulate™ Insulation to help keep hands warm. The unique microfibers that comprise Thinsulate help trap body heat while allowing moisture to escape. The material insulates without adding a lot of bulk to the glove, improving dexterity, which is another important feature of an excellent work glove.

The gram weight of Thinsulate refers to the grams per square meter of insulation. The higher the gram weight, the more it insulates and keeps hands warm.

To help you choose the right winter glove, below are some commonly used insulation materials and more information on Thinsulate gram weight:

  • Cotton flannel liners–very basic and not recommended as they tend to get damp or wet quickly
  • Fleece–good at holding in the heat and quickly dries thanks to the combination of wool and synthetic fibers
  • 40-gram Thinsulate liner–use for dexterity, cool conditions and higher activity levels
  • 80-gram to 100-gram Thinsulate liner–great for the average winter day above 20 degrees Fahrenheit and moderate activity levels
  • 150-gram to 200-gram Thinsulate liner–use in freezing conditions below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and very light activity levels.
  • 400-gram Thinsulate liner—–deal for extreme Arctic cold environments in places like Canada, Alaska, Antarctica and Russia where staff are required to work in painfully low temperatures between 28 and –38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Never Overlook Comfort and a Proper Fit

Winter gloves should fit your hand properly because tight gloves can compromise circulation and increase sweating, which makes your hands cold and uncomfortable.

Poorly fitted gloves also diminish dexterity and grip. Loose gloves can get caught in machinery and are just as uncomfortable as gloves that are too tight. Make sure the winter glove you choose for your safety program is comfortable and is offered in a variety of sizes to fit workers’ hands.

Your winter glove should also have a good cuff that can fit over your jacket sleeve. An extended gauntlet cuff with hook and loop closure offers additional protection to keep snow from creeping into your glove.

How to Use the EN 511 Tested Glove Standard to Determine how Gloves will Hold Up in Cold and Water

The EN 511 is the European test to assess thermal gloves that offer protection against cold working conditions and water.

The EN 511 standard tests for:

  • Convective cold
  • Contact cold
  • Water permeability

The results of the three tests can be found either on the back of the glove, in the conformity statement or in the product listing. Knowing what the EN 511 test rating is will help you decide how the glove will perform in the cold and its ability to resist water.

The symbol for EN511 is a shield icon with a snowflake in the middle and three numbers below the shield.

The first number is related to the test for thermal insulation against Convective Cold. This test shows how well a glove will insulate and maintain your hand temperature against the surrounding cold air. It helps determine what temperature the gloves can be used in.

The second number is related to the test for the glove’s thermal resistance to Contact Cold. It serves as a guide to the heat transfer between the glove and the cold object. This helps determine the temperature at which the hands start feeling the cold from the object it is holding or touching.

The third number is related to the water penetration test. In this test, the glove is submerged in water for 30 minutes. If water passes through to the inside, the glove fails and will show a “0.” If the water does not penetrate the glove after 30 minutes, the glove will score a “Pass” and will have the number “1.”

Test Levels
#1 convective cold 0-4
#2 contact cold  0-4 
#3 water penetration test  0 (fail) or 1 (pass) 

If the number is “0,” it means the glove failed the test, so it isn’t a good option for cold and wet conditions. In the convective cold and contact cold test scores, the higher the number, the better the cold protection.

If the number is an “X” or “N/A,” it means the glove has not been evaluated for that test.

For example, let’s say the EN 511 rating is 421. This means the glove can be used in very cold environments, can hold moderately cold objects and resists water penetration. If you need these features, then the glove may serve you well.

Providing Workers with the Proper Gloves Boosts Morale and Mood

Working in cold and harsh conditions is not for the faint of heart because those situations are uncomfortable, dangerous and can cause feelings of dread. So, when temperatures dip, workers’ energy, enthusiasm and morale often dip too.

However, providing your workers with the perfect winter glove can be a morale booster and mood changer. When safety pros show real empathy for the worker by matching the glove to the worker’s situation, protection and comfort needs, good things happen. Worker attitudes and productivity levels rise when they have high-performance PPE needed to tackle wintry conditions.

Still not Sure Which Winter Glove is Right for You?

Choosing the right winter glove—or any glove for that matter—can be complicated no matter your level of expertise. Just the sheer number of gloves in the marketplace can overwhelm the selection process. If you need help, reach out to your PPE supplier. Most top-tier PPE manufacturers have product managers, specialists and website knowledge bases that can help you choose the perfect glove for your application.

This article originally appeared in the December 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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