The bones and soft tissues in the back of the hand are all vulnerable to impact injuries, which are common in industries as varied as oil and gas, construction, mining, manufacturing, warehousing and transport.

To protect workers from impact hazards, personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers produce a wide range of gloves with new designs and materials constantly entering the market.

Most of these gloves include some sort of performance claims but to date, there has been no commonly agreed performance standard or test method for dorsal (back-of-hand) impact protection gloves in North America.

“Many people mistakenly believe that hand impact injuries affect a narrow range of industries, such as the offshore oil and gas sector, mining and construction,” says Rodney Taylor, global sales and marketing manager for industrial PPE at D3O.

“In reality, impact-related injuries can vary from a bump or bruise to severe bone fracture and everything in between. This means that hand impact protection is a very broad-based market.”

In North America, the absence of any government-mandated requirement for manufacturers to test impact protection, as well as the lack of a voluntary standard, has left safety and PPE procurement professionals without a reliable means to evaluate and assess the quality of the impact protection offered.

At best, this results in market confusion; at worst, it can result in under- or over-specification of gloves, incurring unnecessary expense or leaving workers vulnerable to injury.

Creating a market first

Work on the ANSI/ISEA 138 standard for performance and classification for impact resistant hand protection, which has been underway since 2016, has been carried out by a specialist sub-group of ISEA’s long-established hand protection group.

The impact standard working group includes seven major glove manufacturers, as well as materials experts D3O and input from a physician who specialises in plastic and reconstructive hand surgery.

There is a hand protection standard in North America. However, the existing ANSI/ISEA 105: 2016, American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification covers cut, abrasion, tear and puncture performance, but does not address impact.

Until recently the European industrial gloves market was in a similar position. This changed in 2016, however, with revision of the EN 388 glove standard. EN 388: 2016 Protective gloves against mechanical risks included a first-ever impact testing element.

A new US voluntary standard from ISEA (International Safety Equipment Association – an American National Standards Institute [ANSI]-accredited standards developing organisation) has developed the first-ever industrial glove performance standard.

The new standard aims to improve on the fairly limited treatment of impact performance recently incorporated into the main European hand protection standard, EN 388. This new standard is on track for publication by the end of 2018.

“This standard takes its cues from an existing motorcycle impact standard for hand protection,” explains D3O’s Taylor. “The ISEA 138 standard, by contrast, is specifically designed for industrial gloves and the special protection they offer to workers.”

“When we started building gloves for the oil and gas industry, they asked us whether there was a standard for impact but, at that time, there was only a motorcycle standard in Europe,” recalls Brian Lunniss, director of research and development at industrial glove manufacturer Mechanix Wear.

Filling the gap in standards

“The back-of-hand impact protection market for the industrial area has really exploded in the last eight years,” explains Paul Harris, VP of product strategy and innovations at PPE experts MCR Safety.

“That global category is now probably worth more than $100 million in annual revenue. There’s that much product in circulation yet it’s alarming to think that outside the current European standard, there is no US-based standard to help measure the performance values of any of those products from an impact dissipation perspective.”

The expansion of the impact gloves market has partly been driven by technological advances in materials available. “With the wide assortment of materials now being used in the market – different types of foam, such as EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), and TPR (thermoplastic rubber) and silicones and especially proprietary materials like D3O – we need some kind of measuring stick for the performance aspect because different materials and thicknesses will perform differently,” says Harris.

“Taking one example, a wide range of materials are used in gloves claiming to provide impact protection, many of which come under the umbrella term TPR,” adds Taylor. “Yet TPR is a generic term encompassing a broad range of materials, so gloves may all be labelled TPR but have very different performance attributes.”

The main consequence of the lack of any useful ‘measuring stick’ is to reduce the ability of end-users to choose the right protection for their workforces in a cost-effective way. “For employers, there seems to be an automatic go-to question: ‘Does this product meet a standard?’,” says Cristine Fargo, ISEA‘s director of membership and technical services.

“They want to know, first and foremost, what does this mean? So if they have a document they can refer to, they have some confidence that at least there is a minimal level of performance a product is going to offer for a particular hazard.”

Providing choice and flexibility

The proposed ISEA 138 standard will provide industry-accepted test criteria to measure how different dorsal impact protective gloves reduce peak impact force across the hand. It will be a standalone document focused on impact performance, but it aims to complement the cut, abrasion, puncture and tear components of the existing ANSI/ISEA 105: 2016 document.

The planned standard will:

  • define an agreed test method;
  • include three defined performance levels;
  • specify a pictogram mark for each of the levels for compliant gloves;
  • require that product be tested in a laboratory having a certificate of accreditation meeting the requirements ISO/IEC 17025:2017, General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.

Unlike EN 388, which specifies pass or fail for impact, the three levels should give greater choice and flexibility to the end-user. “The levels are designed to help the end-user make choices that meet the needs of their workforce and are appropriate to the level of hazard or risk they encounter,” says Taylor.

“The standard will provide a reliable, evidence-based starting point to which end users can then apply all the variables affecting their specific workforce, tasks, working environments and budgets.”

Preventing real-life injuries

EN 388 only covers the knuckles but the new standard will include knuckles and fingers, which is critical for industrial glove users where the fingers are frequently at risk. Harris is particularly pleased that 138 plans to test fingers, and multiple places on the fingers, because this reflects how the end-user really experiences workplace injuries.

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 the fingers remained the most vulnerable part of the body in terms of both lost time and recordable injuries.

Injuries to fingers accounted for one-third of all total recordable injuries and almost 20 per cent of lost time injuries. Meanwhile the hand/wrists accounted for around 11 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

Because the working group was keen to ensure the final standard was accurately aimed at reducing the most common impact injuries at work, it brought in Dr Lloyd Champagne, a surgeon based in Phoenix, Arizona, who focuses on plastic and reconstructive hand surgery. His role was to advise on the real-life injuries he sees in hand trauma practice.

“The technical detail of glove making is not what I’m about,” he says. “I helped the group focus on what the standard should be in terms of what part of the anatomy the gloves are really trying to protect and to help them understand the clinical targets, whether the fingertip or finger or hand or wrist. I also tried to help in understanding the magnitude of protection that is needed.”

“As far as what anatomy in the hand is most vulnerable,” says Champagne, “the two main problem areas are the fingertips, which are very commonly injured because they are the part that is universally in contact with everything, and the big knuckles, which are frequently impacted by things such as wrenches slipping or people catching their hands under the hood of a car.”

Giving meaning and adding value

Throughout the standard’s development, the working group has been determined to make sure that the end result is simple, practical and easy to understand.

“We have a common goal of creating an applicable standard that is understandable and can be replicated in labs worldwide,” adds Harris. “We wanted this to be very clear for the people using it, along with the labs that will be performing the test.”

“If you make it too complicated or too hard to implement, and there are other standards out there that are very complicated and hard to understand, then all of a sudden it doesn’t have the same value,” says Vincent Kruiniger, general manager at PPE manufacturer Majestic Glove.

“If you make it simple, easy to understand and to implement, and clear that it protects workers’ hands – based on the performance of materials and coverage – then the value will continue to increase.”

ISEA has a similar perspective. “Everyone wants to be able to write and design something that people are going to use,” says Fargo. “At the end of the day, that standard has to be accepted in that marketplace. We want it to have meaning to manufacturers – and product performance standards tend to become blueprints for product design – and we want to add value to the end-user or employer trying to protect workers.”

Shining a spotlight on performance

The draft standard is still working its way through the development process, which will include a final vote by an external group of industry stakeholders that incorporates test labs, subject matter experts, manufacturers, government agencies and representatives from the end-user community.

If the next steps stay on schedule, Fargo estimates that the standard should be published by ANSI by the end of 2018. Once this happens, it will be up to the industry to inform and educate end-users about what it means, how to differentiate between different products and levels of protection, and how it will help improve workplace protection.

“Ultimately worker safety is the most important thing,” stresses Harris. “And we think this standard will shine a spotlight on the true performance levels of impact gloves and allow them to make a more educated decision.”

Working towards a noble objective

The working group developing the ISEA 138 standard includes the major manufacturers in the impact protection gloves market, as well as D3O in its role as materials experts. All those involved believe the degree of collaboration and agreement within the group reflects the market’s appetite for change and will be critical to the standard’s final success.

“Through ISEA we have essentially been working with some of our fiercest competitors to produce the standard,” explains Harris, “And it has been refreshing to sit down with the others and work towards a common goal: everyone putting their own self-interests aside in trying to produce a well-received standard. At the end of the day, what everyone wants to do is to offer safer options for the workers they provide product to.”

Kruiniger echoes this view: “Our goal the entire time has been to focus on what has greatest value to everyone in the industry. Cooperation has been incredibly important, and we have had a very open-book policy within the working group; this has definitely contributed to giving more value to the standard.”

“They are taking a real look and spending a lot of time and money out of their own pockets to come up with a noble objective,” adds Champagne, “They are doing something that is really uplifting in stewardship of their businesses.”