Our hands consist of bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, skin and nails.  Working in unison, they provide strength and dexterity enabling us to perform routine tasks and accomplish precision movements – until an injury happens. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been reporting data on nonfatal workplace injuries by body part affected for more than a decade. Injuries to upper extremities consistently top the list of nonfatal injuries, with hand injuries making up the largest subsection. Hands are susceptible to many types of injuries, including strains, sprains, burns, cuts, lacerations, punctures, fractures and amputations.

In 2015, there were more than 902,000 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work in private industry. Injuries to upper extremities topped the list with more than 294,000 injuries, and injuries to the hand accounted for more than 124,000 of those injuries.

In an effort to understand the incidence of and contributing factors to workplace hand injuries, a survey of more than 400 safety professionals, co-partnered by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), was completed in late 2015. Survey respondents were asked to rank which type of hand injury was most common, and 41 percent ranked cuts or punctures at the top. Another question asked why these injuries occurred. The top reason cited – by more than 40 percent – was lack of personal protective equipment or cut-resistant gloves.

When engineering and administrative controls are not enough, cut-resistant gloves can help prevent hand injuries. To ensure the correct cut-resistant gloves are being selected, you have to understand the current industry standards and levels of cut protection.  

Industry Standards and Levels of Cut Protection

Two standards are used to evaluate the cut protection levels of gloves. The American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association (ANSI/ISEA) 105 "American National Standard for Hand Protection" is the U.S. standard for glove testing. The European standard – EN388 "Protective Gloves against Mechanical Risks" – is the European Union (EU) standard for glove testing and it also is referenced globally. Both ANSI/ISEA 105 and EN388 are used to test gloves for mechanical risks such as abrasion, cut, tear and puncture, with cut ratings generating the most interest amongst glove users. 

ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 is the fourth revision of the voluntary consensus standard that first was published in 1999. Significant changes to the cut-resistance classification determinations have been made through the years.

With the 2016 revision, a single test method has been selected for classification purposes (ASTM F2992-15), and the number of classification levels has been expanded to nine levels to address the gap among certain levels seen in earlier versions of the standard. Previous editions of ANSI/ISEA referred to two test methods and five levels of cut resistance. ASTM F2292-15 uses a tomodynamometer (TDM) machine to pull a blade in 20 millimeter (mms) paths across a glove's surface under varied loads and measures the weight needed to cut through in grams.

EN 388-2016 uses different level groupings and references two different cut test methods in the revised standard. The use of the second test is dependent upon the results of the first. The first test uses the coupe test and a rotating blade under a fixed weight is moved back and forth on the surface of the glove until cut-through. The results are then compared to a reference fabric. 

If the glove material dulls the coupe tester blade, then the second cut test – ISO 13997 – is performed. Like ASTM F2292-15, the ISO 13997 test also uses a TDM machine and pulls a blade in 20 mm paths across the glove's surface under varied gram loads. But the cut through is measured in newtons – a unit of force. One newton is equivalent to 101.97 grams.    

You must know the grams of cut resistance required to avoid confusion between the old and new ANSI/ISEA and EN 388 standards. Manufacturers are being given a transition period to change product labeling and content to reflect the ANSI/ISEA 2016 levels. All pre-existing EN 388 certifications will remain valid until a new certification is needed (maximum of five years).

$afety Pays

So how much can an employer save by using appropriate hand protection offering the right cut protection?

OSHA's "$afety Pays" calculator can be used by employers to assess the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on their profitability. The program uses the company's profit margin, the average costs of an injury or illness and an indirect cost multiplier to project the amount of additional sales needed to cover those costs. 

For example, if employees at your company suffered one puncture and one laceration injury, you would need to generate more than $3.1 million in additional sales to cover the costs of those two injuries. This assumes a modest profit margin of 3 percent.

When engineering and administrative controls and safe work practices do not provide sufficient protection from cut exposure, then PPE in the form of cut-resistant gloves is the last line of defense.
When properly selected and utilized, gloves can help reduce hand injuries. Selecting the incorrect glove can pose a hazard. The wrong glove can provide a false sense of protection, and if a glove is used for an inappropriate application, it can create a safety hazard.

Glove manufacturers and industry standards groups have made tremendous progress in testing and measuring cut resistance. With the 2016 revisions of the ANSI/ISEA 105 and EN 388 standards, it is vital that you understand the different test methods in order to interpret the results, draw accurate conclusions and select the best glove for the task.

Preventing workplace injuries requires a comprehensive approach to safety that involves your entire organization and a positive safety culture. It takes a concerted effort by all - driven from the top and supported by employees all levels. 

Hand injuries are preventable and the key is you. Don't take your hands for granted. 

Sally J. Smart is a technical safety specialist at Grainger, a leader in safety services and solutions, offering technical support and training to help customers comply with workplace safety regulations and safeguard facilities. For more information on creating a safer working environment, visit http://safety.grainger.com.