Year after year, hand injuries are among the leading causes of visits to A&E and missed workdays. The two most common forms of hand injuries are cuts and lacerations, making cut protection an important issue in safety management today.

Every workplace presents a unique set of hazards and environments, so determining the most appropriate choice of cut protection for each worker can be difficult. Ansell cut protection marketing director Paul Tierney sat down with us to discuss the tricky task of choosing the right gloves, whilst allowing the wearer to perform their tasks as required.

Q1:What does protecting workers from cut injuries involve?

A: Protective gloves, especially those designed to resist cuts, are a common approach. As a designer and manufacturer of cut resistant gloves, we consider elements such as cut resistant yarns, tear strength of knitted fabrics and abrasion resistance. We also look at other properties such as grip and dexterity as important aspects of cut protection.

Gloves aside, cut protection also includes other factors not related to protective apparel such as machine guarding, workplace set-up, working conditions and worker training. Gloves, as important as they are to us, are often considered the last line of defence. Safety leaders should do everything they can to ensure workers’ hands are not at risk in the first place.

Q2: When selecting the level of cut protection required, what needs to be considered? Isn’t it as simple as choosing the highest level available?

A: It’s not enough to deal with a symptom. Take a cut injury for example, it is not as simple as increasing the level of cut resistance in the glove, the root cause needs to be identified.

Was the cut injury due to a sharp object, loss of grip, an ill fitted glove, or was it worker fatigue? There are many other elements that may have caused the cut to occur. It is important that hazards are fully evaluated and the correct glove is selected. Injuries often happen due to poor selection or a lack of understanding of the needs of the wearer. 

Q3: In 2016, there was a major update to the EN 388 safety standard, could you explain what’s new and what it means for people who select protective gloves

A: Technologies have evolved since the first standard in 1994 and the previous standard from 2003. New engineered yarns (glass fibre, stainless steel etc.) have made the cut test method standard inconsistent and unreliable, showing high variability from one lab to another, and even within the same lab. So, the need for new test methods was urgent.

When testing abrasion resistance, the abrasive paper that was specified in the old standard was discontinued, resulting in a lot of different papers being used, and delivering inconsistent results. In the latest revision to the standard, a new abrasive paper has been defined, allowing labs to test reliably and consistently.

Recently, the trend of gloves produced with impact bumpers as a protective feature emerged. As there was no way to consistently test the effectiveness of these bumpers, glove manufacturers started to make claims without any verifiable testing. To provide more clarity to this, an impact protection test has been developed. Gloves will need to meet this pass or fail the test before they can make this claim.

Finally, and perhaps with the greatest impact on the industry, a new EN ISO cut test has been introduced. This is specifically for cut resistant materials that show a dulling effect on blades used in the coupe test. Glove manufacturers now have two tests for cut resistance. Safety managers need to understand how these tests work and what they mean for people who wear the gloves.

Q4: It is sometimes said that leather is the best material for body protection. In your experience, which materials in the market now meet heavy cut resistance challenges?

A: Leather is far from ideal as a cut resistant material. Being a natural product, there are inconsistencies in the material. It is a challenge for manufacturers to be able to confidently use leather in cut protection. In the end, leather is simply skin – so protecting human skin from animal skin products doesn’t make sense anymore.

Today, there are many yarns that can offer high levels of protection. Some of the most effective are blends or engineered yarns. Para-aramids for example, are 5 times stronger than steel and there’s also high performance polyethylene, which is 3 times stronger than para-aramids. It is also very comfortable and has outstanding dexterity. We are far more able to design, test, and manufacture gloves using these yarns and deliver high levels of cut protection that are also reliable over time.

Q5: What else is important when evaluating cut protection and choosing gloves?

A: Grip – the importance is apparent when you consider the fact that sharp-edged objects pose a much greater threat when they are in motion. A secure grip, combined with the proper level of cut resistance can significantly reduce the risk of cut injuries. Preventing slips and decreasing the grip force required whilst performing a task, provides the wearer with more control.

Q6: Workers often say they prefer gloves that offer protection, dexterity and comfort – do such products exist or are gloves designed with one or two of these elements only?

A: It has been difficult in the past – you often had to sacrifice dexterity when maximising protection. However, with today’s advanced yarns, and new ways of testing safety performance, we are able to get closer to our goal of designing gloves that workers like using.

HyFlex® products with INTERCEPT™ Technology are a good example. INTERCEPT™ blends engineered, synthetic and natural fibers to achieve higher levels of cut resistance. The fibers are a mix of engineered yarns such as para-aramid and high performance polyethylene. When we blend these yarns with comfortable yarns like lycra and cotton, we can make great products.

Q7: How exactly does the INTERCEPT Technology platform work and what are its key benefits for companies, safety managers and finally workers’ safety?

A: The INTERCEPT™ Technology stemmed from global industrial demands for more comprehensive cut protection solutions, especially common applications where cut risks are known. Making use of its intimate knowledge of these industries, Ansell made sure it had full control end-to-end when it came to producing the range – from the sourcing of raw materials, to knitting patterns and right through to conducting glove coat dipping in their very own manufacturing plants.

This process allowed us to achieve consistent cut performance, an advantage of INTERCEPT™ Technology. This provides safety managers with peace of mind, knowing that their workers are consistently protected.

Q8: Flexible grip is one of the key benefits of the latest HyFlex® Series. Could you explain why else workers would choose these gloves?

A: Our latest HyFlex® series addresses many of the issues we discussed. They offer a reinforced thumb crotch to provide extra durability and comfort for extended wear, are oil repellent, and is also one of the lightest cut resistant gloves.

Q9: Any advice you would like to add when choosing the right glove?

A: Products that provide “cut resistance” and “cut protection” do not completely prevent or eliminate the potential for cuts or punctures, and are not intended or tested to provide protection against powered blades or other sharp or rotating equipment. Users are encouraged to always use caution and care when handling sharp materials.

A big thank you to Paul for taking his time to share his insights with us!

Disclaimer: The information provided through Greenham Pulse is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Greenham Pulse is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.