Bringing Comfort, Dexterity & Durability to Cut Protection
By: Wekasinghe Dushan, Contributor
The industrial worker faces several daunting challenges every day, and having the right tools is always critical for their success. However, the most essential tools are their hands. In challenging industrial environments, hands are the most exposed part of the body for injury. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) reported that of all industrial occupational injuries resulting in medical leave, hand injuries are the second most common. Hand injuries account for 45% of the injuries that occur in upper extremity, which include the shoulder, arm, hand and wrist. There is a critical need in demanding industrial environments for proper hand protection to prevent injury and ensure worker productivity.
There is a plethora of cut-resistant gloves in the market, and they are typically made of synthetic fibers, which determine their cut protection level. While these gloves offer higher levels of cut protection, they have achieved this at the expense of worker comfort, hand dexterity and durability. Many gloves for industrial applications are made with lower quality materials, resulting in discomfort, increased hand fatigue, and loss of cut-resistant performance over time. Many industrial workers are faced with the choice between comfort or proper cut protection and must settle for an option that only meets one of these needs, which often leads to injury.
The challenge with mechanical hand protection has always been to provide workers with comfortable products, while effectively meeting the occupational risks involved. The safety officer’s dilemma is to ensure that employees will wear proper hand protection with desired ANSI/ISEA 105 cut protection ratings to prevent hand injuries. Recognizing this need, research and development engineers explore new methods and materials to address the battle between comfort vs. cut protection. The aim is to enable hand protection with enhanced wearer comfort at higher cut and abrasion resistance levels. It is not just the comfort, the dexterity of the design is also an important factor to keep in mind without limiting the flexibility of the natural hand anatomy (otherwise it would create fatigue in prolonged use of the product due to the design and construction failures of the product). It doesn’t stop there; the durability is an also an important aspect of these products, especially given the cost of these reusable gloves. Since these are frequently used for prolonged applications, the construction of the lining must be made with durable materials without compromising on the original protection that they claimed. Therefore, the right selection of materials and product structure governs the comfort, dexterity, durability and performance that the product is supposed to deliver throughout its life in use.
Comfort is mainly composed of the fit and feel. One of the main aspects of feel is the breathability of the glove that allows the entrapped sweat to ease out of the glove and fresh air to come in. Commonly used glove materials like glass-fiber, Kevlar and polyester can be abrasive, non-porous and even leave residue on the skin, making the wearer feel uncomfortable. Also, poor fitting gloves with loose- or tight-fitting fingertips and finger crotches will lead to poor dexterity and excessive hand fatigue. Without proper fit and feel, wearing gloves for extended periods of times can lead to heating, sweating and irritations, leading to utter discomfort. These unique elements of fit and feel will provide the comfort required for demanding jobs while improving user experience and efficiencies. The longer-lasting comfort of gloves made with improved and selective fiber construction guarantees that users will wear the gloves at work without compromising their safety for comfort.
In addition to cut resistance and comfort, it is equally important to consider the level of dexterity offered by the hand protection. Cut-resistant gloves are generally made with materials like Kevlar and glass fiber, which tend to have higher material density. Though these materials provide significant mechanical protection, gloves made with these fibers tend to be stiffer and bulkier– leading to increased hand fatigue. The abrasive nature of these materials over prolonged periods of use may cause pinching, discomfort and roughness against the skin. However, improved fiber combination with selective yarns and knitting structure designs create a dexterous lining for gloves with lighter weight. As a result, such gloves made with these selections dramatically reduce hand fatigue, stress and irritation. In general, higher gauge of knitting (18-gauge & 21-gauge) results in better dexterity than lower knitting gauges (10-gauge and 13-gauge).
One of the disadvantages of typical fibers used in mechanical protective gloves is the loss of cut protection over time. Materials that are inert and less sensitive to the mechanical challenges prevents the ‘loss of integrity’ of the product and ensures durability in most demanding environments and contexts, such as heavy use of machinery and in oily conditions. Studies have shown that lining made with engineered fiber/yarn composites offers more endurance within cut resistance and abrasion resistance than gloves with traditional fiber constructions. Unlike conventional fibers, the engineered composite fibers/yarns stay robust under frequent washing–even with alkaline-based detergents. Also, unique knitting technologies by manufacturers ensure the integrity of the liner structure leading to uncompromised protection and comfort.
A protective glove that delivers higher cut and abrasion resistance levels while maintaining comfort, dexterity and durability is long overdue. Improved and engineered fiber/yarn materials and advanced knitting technologies used for glove liners addresses the array of challenges present in complex work environments, offering lightweight structures with enduring uncompromised protection, thus assisting safety managers to meet the most pressing needs in workers safety and well-being. Thanks to these advances and improvements, workers don’t have to sacrifice comfort, dexterity and durability to achieve optimum safety. WMHS
Wekasinghe Dushan is the Senior Manager of Technology at SW Safety Solutions Inc., a leader in glove manufacturing and sustainable solutions. SW has always been committed to creative innovation and outstanding customer service, revolutionizing the healthcare and industrial products industry. SW supplies a unique portfolio of products to meet the growing hand protection needs of workers worldwide. The company is headquartered in Union City, CA, and is a woman-owned business (www.swsafety.com).
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