"My hands are my livelihood." This is a truth for millions of workers in the construction, automotive, glass, and sheet metal industries. Hand injuries rank second among work-related injuries, most of which could have been prevented by simply pulling on a proper pair of cut resistant gloves.
It's unfortunate but not surprising that so many workers don't wear their safety gloves. After all, wearing gloves all day can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. Thankfully, new fiber technology has dramatically improved the wearer's comfort while simultaneously improving cut protection.
The Bare Bones of Hand Injuries
Each of our hands has 29 bones along with major nerves, arteries, veins, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, and fingernails. Given the complexity of the human hand, an injury can be small physically but come with a very high cost—more than $6,000 on average, to be precise. Even getting a few stitches can cost around $2,000 and come with significant work-related restrictions.
Even with the best safety protocols in place, hand injuries still occur. The most common ones include:
Many of these can be prevented by a good pair of work gloves suited for the types of tasks involved on a job. But how do you know which gloves are right for you?
Cut Ratings Explained
It can be confusing and difficult to figure out which glove is best for the type of work you’re doing. To that end, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has established a rating system regarding different cut hazards and the level of protection best suited for each:
- Cut Level 1 – Nuisance Cuts: This level essentially covers paper cuts
- Cut Level 2 – Low Cut Hazards: Most common in construction and package handling jobs
- Cut Level 3 and 4 – Moderate Cut Hazards: Most common in lighter metal stamping and light glass handling positions
- Cut Level 5 to 9 – High & Extreme Cut Hazards: These are the heavier jobs involving sheet metal, glass, sharp blades, razors, food service, pulp and paper, and so on
There are also EN388 (European Glove standards) ratings that address the levels of puncture, tear, blade cut, and abrasion resistance in a similar manner. These guidelines have been applied to protective equipment, especially gloves, to help companies and individuals determine the best gear for their work.
In Search of Comfort, Function, and Protection
Given the hazards workers face, why don’t more of them wear gloves to protect their hands against these injuries? Employees may argue that wearing gloves diminishes grip and dexterity, which can compromise safety in an entirely different way. After all, if you can’t handle tools appropriately, how can you use them safely?
Arguments like these may have had some weight in the past, but technology has evolved to make safety gloves more flexible and comfortable than ever, thanks to engineered yarns (also known as super yarns).
In the past, protective gloves were usually rigid, hot, and generally uncomfortable. Some workers may have chosen leather gloves only to find that, although better than nothing, they offered almost no protection against cut-related injuries. Today, there are several options available that provide comfort, grip, and varying levels of protection so individuals can choose the glove that’s best for the task at hand.
The Evolution of Cut-Proof Protection
For a long time, leather was the basis for protective gloves, but that essentially meant wearing a second skin that didn’t offer much protection at all. Since then, technological advances like synthetic fibers have led to lighter, more flexible, and durable options.
Polyester and nylon options provide some minimal protection against minor abrasions. Another synthetically developed option is HPPE (High Performance Polyethylene) technology that are generally inexpensive and boast protection ratings at levels two and three.
Gloves made of Kevlar (or its generic counterpart, Aramid) are able to withstand excessive temperatures while still being suitable for gripping. Their flame-resistant fibers also comply with FDA food handling regulations.
Dyneema is another synthetic fabric that provides high levels of protection. It is noted to be fifteen times stronger than steel despite being thin and light-weight. Gloves made with Dyneema have fibers so small and thin that they don't irritate the skin, making it possible to wear them longer without side effects. Dyneema, moreover, can dissipate body heat and cool the wearer's hand, which is a great perk for anyone who has to work outdoors in the summer or in higher temperature work environments.
Dyneema represents a step-change in cut resistant fibers. It's stronger, lighter, and thinner than aramid materials and fifteen times stronger than steel on a weigh-per-weight basis. Gloves made with Dyneema offer enhanced cut protection, are cool to the touch, last longer, and are resistant to chemicals and UV light.
Further technological enhancements have paved the way for Dyneema Diamond Technology, which retains the same properties as standard Dyneema but doubles the cut resistance of the yarn at the same glove thickness or provides the same cut resistance in a thinner glove for improved dexterity and comfort.
The Bottom Line
There’s no substitute for being careful and complying with safety standards, but that shouldn't mean having to be uncomfortable throughout your entire shift. Cut-proof gloves have come a long way and today’s technology balances protection with wearability, so no one has to choose between comfort and protecting two of their greatest assets while on the job.