Developments in glove manufacturing
Answered by Adam Brink, marketing and sales, Showa Co. (USA) Inc., Seattle.
Hand injuries have always been a primary concern in the industrial market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than 100,000 lost-time hand injuries occur annually. While regulation and compliance are on the rise, glove manufacturers have responded by introducing hundreds of new styles of gloves, targeted to specific markets to address safety concerns unique to a particular industry. Along with the need to reduce injuries, companies also are demanding gloves that increase worker performance and efficiency.
Use of lightweight, high-performance synthetic fibers is one prominent development that has addressed these needs. Glove manufacturers are finding that using these fibers allows them to produce better performing and more comfortable gloves without sacrificing safety. As these new fibers are introduced, we have seen that gloves can be far stronger at a much lighter weight than gloves of the past. This has proven to be beneficial for many applications. A lighter-weight, thinner glove allows for increased mobility, dexterity and feel, so handling small parts or taking on tasks that require the wearer to "feel" what they are doing are done more efficiently.
Increased cut resistance is also common in many of the new fibers. In the past, high cut resistance was achieved with a thick, bulky fabric that was neither comfortable nor worker friendly. Although these gloves provided cut resistance, they also slowed down productivity and were daunting when used for detailed applications. Workers often removed gloves to complete the job. Today's new fibers are more comfortable and provide better dexterity, and the newest generation has seen glove manufacturers take the next step by engineering fibers such as high-performance polyethylene combined with stainless steel or fiberglass to further increase cut resistance.
Glove manufacturers also have continued to innovate in the coating process of palm-dipped gloves. A variety of materials are used, such as natural rubber, nitrile, PVC and polyurethane. Each of these has its own advantages depending on the specific application. Gloves can be designed to enhance grip in wet and oily conditions, increase puncture resistance and allow for greater dexterity – especially compared with leather and canvas gloves manufactured in the past. Once again, this leads to better work performance and productivity.
Gone are the days when a one-size-fits-all, stiff, bulky leather glove was used for almost every application. That mentality has changed as people are introduced to gloves that are made in an array of sizes, with many different materials and a choice of coatings to suit any job.
Besides flexibility and lightweight cut resistance, greater emphasis has been placed on visibility in the workplace. Road crews and the construction industry have traditionally led the way in this department. Recently, however, other industries, such as manufacturing and fabricating, which may require a large number of workers in a small space, also have become aware of the need for high-visibility personal protective equipment. Glove manufacturers have responded to these needs by reintroducing existing models in high-visibility colors.
Workplace safety will always be of paramount importance. Gloves that are more comfortable and flexible not only will reduce hand fatigue and increase productivity, but also will improve compliance. The advent of high-performance fibers has allowed manufacturers not only to add all of these benefits, but to do so while, at the same time, increasing cut resistance. As companies continue to pursue a safer work environment, the glove industry will continue to offer a variety of solutions.