Sisitha Sudarshana, Contributor
Think about our hands. They allow us to perform simple, everyday tasks without a second thought. And in the workplace, they are the tools that enable skilled workers to complete the toughest of jobs in a variety of demanding industries—from oil and gas to construction, mining and assembly. It is in these hazardous settings that hands take a real beating.
In fact, hand injuries are one of the most common, reported injuries in these environments. And, these injuries usually involve finger and knuckle damages, as they are the most susceptible to receiving high impacts. It is for this very reason that impact-resistant gloves were developed. Now, with new standards in place, impact-resistant gloves are gaining more attention—and as a result, companies are innovating in the category.
Historically, it had been a challenge to find the right impact-resistant glove. Until relatively recently, finding the right product was a hit-or-miss proposition—literally—as there were no reliable standards to evaluate impact-resistant products. Purchasers were faced with the overwhelming task of choosing from glove options that made varying performance claims. The only way to really evaluate a product was to use it on-the-job and hope your workers did not get hurt. Something had to change.
CHANGING THE INDUSTRY STANDARDS
To address this, EN 388 (the European Standard for Protective Gloves) was updated in 2016 to include a section that addressed impact protection. It was based on an existing motorcycle impact standard that simply offered Pass/Fail results as an assessment of impact protection for the knuckles. It was not until 2019 that the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) worked with industry experts to create ANSI/ISEA 138-2019—the American National Standard for Performance and Classification for Impact-Resistant Hand Protection. This new standard provides a 3-level scale to measure the performance of both finger and knuckle protection. What was once a trial-and-error process now has a specific, reliably measurable protection standard.
Armed with this new standard, manufacturers could explore and test material options for impact resistance. Manufacturers tested a number of materials—from EVA foam to silicone—and the most widely accepted material was thermoplastic rubber (TPR). It has become so accepted in the industry that, today, TPR has become the generic shorthand for impact-resistant gloves—independent of the actual material.
TPR (the material) became popular because of a number of inherent properties and benefits it delivers. It is lightweight and abrasion-resistant; has high tear strength; is economical; and, most importantly, offers high impact resistance. TPR can also be easily molded and integrated into a variety of liners for full back-of-hand protection for a wide range of applications. And, with the new impact safety standards, manufacturers have already begun to innovate their TPR technologies for a safer, more comfortable worker experience. The new standard and new materials have accelerated impact-resistant glove development. Here are some developments that deliver real benefits to users.
Intentional Flex Points that Decrease Hand Fatigue
It is a frequently stated maxim in the industry that it is easy to make a high-protection glove, but it’s hard to make a high-protection glove that is comfortable enough to wear all day. Nowhere is this more relevant than with impact resistance. Impact-resistant gloves of yesteryear had thick pieces of stiff rubber that would result in hand fatigue. Others would promote greater flexibility yet have sparse back-of-hand coverage, often leading to injury.
Finding the balance between protection and comfort had been a challenge for manufacturers, especially without a consistent impact standard. Advancements have led to manufacturers designing high impact-resistant gloves with engineered channels in the TPR—this allows for specific flex points that enable greater dexterity, decreasing hand fatigue. These contouring channels assist natural finger and hand movement and promote exceptional flexibility without compromising the impact integrity of the gloves.
Clenched Fist Knuckle Protection
One of the most critical components of impact protection involves the knuckles. Knuckle protection had often involved placing a thick piece of material, sometimes even plastic, across the top of the hand—it was that simple.
Yes, knuckle mobility and comfort are just as critical as finger dexterity for worker performance and comfort. But, there is a fine line between knuckle joint freedom and actually protecting them. It is important to be sure hands can be protected in all attitudes, postures and positions. New developments have resulted in strategically designed flexing slots on the back of the hand. These slots allow knuckle joints to move freely when hands are clenched, without exposing the knuckles to impact. This innovation allows for greater worker comfort while maintaining greater impact protection.
Full Thumb Protection
Thumb-related injuries are a common occurrence in risky environments. One of the greatest challenges with impact protection has been fully protecting the thumb, while still allowing workers to grasp objects. More often than not, manufacturers had overlooked the importance of providing proper thumb protection from tip to knuckle, which left it more vulnerable to injury. New impact-resistant gloves have been designed with contouring elements that move with the thumb for increased flexibility, and specially engineered slots placed at the thumb joint to relieve pressure and provide optimal comfort.
As hand injuries continue to be a frequent occurrence in the workplace, it is crucial to be aware of these new developments so you can provide workers with the proper protection. The new standards in impact protection have created new considerations—specifically joint flex points, knuckle protection and thumb protection—that ensure that the impact-resistant gloves not only protect, but also allow for comfort that enables workers to perform better. Long gone are the days of working with stiff, bulky gloves. There are technologies out there that truly suit workers’ needs. It is a great example of how standards have had a positive impact on industrial gloves and the protection they provide to workers in variety of industries. WMHS
Sisitha Sudarshana is Director of Technology at SW Safety ®