According to Best Glove Manufacturing, the selection of safety gloves is a crucial issue in many workplaces and proliferation of new materials and techniques of production have made standards ever more essential.
However, it is also important to be aware of the role of testing in the determination of a glove’s suitability for a function.
The AS/NZS 2161 series of Australian/ New Zealand Standards for occupational protective gloves (i.e. hand protection), covers areas such as the general requirements for manufacturers, mechanical resistance, chemical resistance, and thermal resistance.
The specifications are adopted from the European equivalents.
Such specifications should only ever be used as a general guideline to choosing a glove, not as a fail safe method of deciding what hand protection to use for a given hazard.
Sometimes more protection may be required or other factors may influence choice.
This is explained more fully in AS/NZS 2161.1 Occupational protective gloves - Selection, use and maintenance.
During the past two years, there has been an increasing number of companies requesting specific test results for gloves they are considering for use in their workplace.
When talking with these companies it becomes clear that they have been told that test data should determine what hand protection to choose for use at their site, and in particular for mechanical protection.
This can be misleading and dangerous. A highly rated cut-resistant glove may not provide the grip or dexterity needed for a task and may thereby create a hazard rather than remove one.
Standards are designed to show what tolerance to particular circumstances a product has under particular test conditions.
These test conditions and circumstances are the same for all products thereby allowing interested parties to see how each individual product rates.
The challenge with this type of testing is that its design may not replicate each and every hazard one might see in a workplace. For example, the cut test for hand protection is conducted with a round blade, not a pointed one, so it in no way is representative of the use of a knife in a warehouse or in an abattoir.
The puncture test is conducted with a steel stylus with a 1mm point which is larger than a small nail, a shard of glass or a syringe. These are only two of the tests that are conducted by the testing bodies, but they are the two common tests.
The part of the glove that is tested is the palm area, so it follows that the findings are only relevant to that part of a glove. The testing is also only administered to a dry sample, which means that when a glove is wet, the results are no longer useful.
There are no complaints about how the testing bodies conduct their testing, they report the results of the application of consistent testing methods and procedures for a range of hand protection and this is done successfully.
However, it is not physically possible to replicate all of the hazards that occur in all work places so the standard test method is what is offered.
In New Zealand recently, it was shown that a glove claiming to have a cut resistant level of 4 actually had a cut resistance level of 1.
Could the same thing happen in Australia? Of course it could. The
New Zealand test house was NATA accredited. The problem lies in what quality of product a manufacturer can sustain consistently through time and what quality assurance programs they have in place to monitor this.
It is not enough to show that several samples have a certain rating from the testing authority; processes must be in place to maintain that level and quality during manufacturing.
While testing should be carried out and reported for all hand protection products, this should always be only one factor when deciding what hand protection should be used for a specific hazard or range of hazards.
It is not uncommon to find that a relatively low rated cut resistant glove is able to provide more than enough protection for a particular use based on other salient features of the glove.
It does not matter what hand protection is used, there will always have to be a decision on what degree of compromise is tolerable that compromise may be dexterity, durability, cost, or cut resistance.
What is truly important is taking all aspects of a hazard are taken into consideration. For instance:
- What is the hazard?
- How much dexterity is required?
- What length glove is needed?
- Are there liquids present? If so, what are the liquids and what is the appropriate hand protections required?
- How much grip is required?
- How long are the gloves to last?
- Do you want to launder the gloves?
- Is there any heat present?
- Are various sizes of glove required?
Another common question is what level of protection remains after a glove has been used or laundered? With laundering, a lot can come down to who launders it and the process employed. Many have tried to assess this, but few have succeeded.
There are many confounding variables involved, such as the type of hazard the glove is required for including the amount of pressure a wearer exerts using the glove, whether the glove gets wet during use and so on.
On the question of laundering, there is a company operating in Australia which aims to handle this complex problem and is currently setting up a facility to test laundered gloves in accordance with the AS/NZS 2161 standards.
If it is successful, this service will help alleviate the concerns users of safety gloves may have about the quality of laundered products.
Standards are an important source of information when assessing a safety glove but there are other considerations to be taken into account.
There is a lot to be said for talking to the workers who use the gloves, thinking through hazard issues, reflecting on the environment in which the gloves are used and ensuring that wet or laundered gloves can still ‘do the job’.