Gloves for impact protection

What do I need to know about protecting my employees’ hands from impact?

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Responding is Blanche Maass, communications manager, D3O, Croydon, England.

Let’s start with the problem. If you’re a health and safety professional responsible for specifying hand protection against impact, whether it’s in oil and gas, construction, mining, manufacturing, warehousing, or transportation industries, chances are you’ve been inundated with product choices throughout your career. A variety of new technologies, designs and materials – from foams and thermoplastic rubbers to silicones and proprietary materials – have surfaced. This means more time researching the expanding impact protection glove market, deciphering product messaging or testing. The risks of not getting it right include incurring unnecessary expenses or leaving workers open to injury. In some cases, overspecifying can be as costly and dangerous as underspecifying, with evidence showing that workers won’t wear personal protective equipment if it’s cumbersome, uncomfortable or restrictive. These risks bring about a resource-intensive glove specification process, when it’s in the interests of all to make it as streamlined as possible.

This tension has brought about the need for an external benchmark tool – or standard – that allows specifiers to make objective “apples to apples” comparisons between gloves that offer back-of-hand impact protection. Although the EN 388 European hand protection standard was updated in 2016 to include impact for the first time, the U.S. market has remained without any performance-based standard to assess glove impact protection. The International Safety Equipment Association has worked to close this gap by establishing testing, classification and labeling requirements for products that offer impact protection. The voluntary standard is known as ANSI/ISEA 138, “American National Standard for Performance and Classification for Impact-Resistant Hand Protection.”

The standard specifies three performance levels that offer a numerical representation for the impact protection a glove offers, with the lowest protection rated as Level 1 and the highest as Level 3. The overall performance level of a glove reflects the lowest performance level recorded. For instance, if the fingers and thumb meet Level 1 but the knuckles meet Level 2, the glove still will be rated as Performance Level 1. The glove will be marked with a pictogram to identify its performance level, which must be “visible and legible throughout its normal useful life.”

ANSI/ISEA 138 is specifically designed for industrial gloves and the special protection they offer to workers. Whereas EN 388 covers the knuckles, ANSI/ISEA 138 covers knuckles and fingers, which is critical for industrial glove users whose fingers are frequently at risk. 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, fingers remained the most vulnerable part of the body in terms of both lost time and recordable injuries.

Used as a benchmark tool, ANSI/ISEA 138 will help decide which glove is appropriate for each task and compare like with like. It will support health and safety professionals working to obtain buy-in from frontline workers and management teams alike. It will clarify companywide specifications and, used in commercial bids, indicate minimum performance levels, resulting in more streamlined commercial processes for both buyers and manufacturers.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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