Consider this: hand injuries are the second leading cause of work-related injuries, sending over one million workers to the emergency room every year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 70 percent of workers whose hands were injured were not wearing gloves at the time. The remaining 30 percent did wear gloves, but they were inadequate, damaged, or the wrong type for the type of hazard present.
The gloves you choose matter. But with so many different features and manufacturer claims, it can be a tricky field to navigate. While the most expensive gloves may indeed be the right fit for you, the price isn’t a strong indicator of the quality or their suitability for a particular application. In fact, there are a number of other factors that matter far more than the price point, and it’s critical to factor those into your final decision.
What’s in a Glove?
We’ve established that safety gloves – the right safety gloves – are an important and often overlooked type of PPE. But what do they do? Safety gloves can:
- Protect against cuts, lacerations, severe abrasions, and puncture wounds
- Prevent skin absorption of harmful substances
- Prevent chemical or thermal burns
- Protect against harmful temperature extremes
- Enhance grip
ANSI rates gloves on a scale of A1 to A9, offering some guidance for workers feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices on the market. This is a good place to start when considering your needs.
- Often standard work gloves acceptable for general applications without high cut risk
- Main features are basic cut protection and enhanced grip
- Best for nuisance cuts (A1) and low cut hazards such as material handling, small parts assembly with sharp edges, and general purpose applications (A2)
- Often marketed as “cut resistant” with a technical material layer to resist cuts and slashes
- Suitable for light to moderate cut hazards like light glass handling and forestry (A3), medium hazards like appliance manufacturing and glass handling (A4), medium/heavy hazards like meat processing (A5), and high cut hazards like dry walling and pulp and paper (A6)
- High level of cut protection
- Dexterity, flexibility, and breathability are often compromised in favor of additional protection
- Price tends to increase significantly
- Ideal for high to extreme cut hazards, including glass manufacturing and sorting applications (A7), metal recycling (A8), and metal fabrication and automotive applications (A9)
It’s About More than Just the Price
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to safety gloves. But there is a key rule to remember: price and cost are two different things.
It’s a common misconception that the most expensive gloves are the highest quality or the “best.” Some of the most expensive safety gloves are made of attractive grain leather. And while that might be an excellent choice for a worker who wants to repel water, it’s not going to cut it for someone handling chemicals and other toxic substances.
Conversely, a worker handling abrasive materials day in and day out probably won’t want to compromise on quality and opt for the least expensive pair of gloves available. Chances are good they’ll end up replacing them sooner rather than later.
So if price doesn’t much matter, what does?
- Good fit
- Comfort level, including breathability, wickability, and dexterity
- Strong and durable material
Finding gloves that meet your needs in these key areas is critical. When you’ve found a select few that match your criteria, then it's time to figure out which ones fit into your budget.
Buy Gloves to Last
This is truly where price versus cost comes into play. Here are some points to consider when analyzing the overall cost of your glove options:
- Protection: Will the glove adequately protect workers from identified hazards?
- Cost performance: How much will the glove cost over the long-term, including purchase price, laundering and care, and the ability to protect against costly injuries?
- Productivity: Will the glove help or hinder workers in doing their job more efficiently?
- Injury prevention: Will the glove reduce the risk of injury (and therefore lost time due to injury)?
It can be tempting to save money up front by choosing the cheapest gloves, but you’ll probably sacrifice quality and the cost of replacing them on a regular basis really adds up.
Similarly, purchasing the most expensive gloves you can find might backfire. If they don’t do what you need them to do, you’ll end up discarding them and paying for another pair that does.
This is why it’s so important to understand what’s needed for your specific work application before you purchase your gloves. Not all safety gloves are used equally, and some really take a beating. If you’re in one of these industries, it’s likely your gloves get a lot of use and you should focus on durability when buying hand protection:
- Concrete work
- Steel and metal fabrication
Safety gloves are an integral part of any hand safety program. While choosing the right glove for the right application can be challenging, it’s important to remember that the price of gloves and their cost isn’t the same thing. When deciding which to purchase, factor in things like the level of protection, overall costs including laundering and care, whether they help or hinder productivity, and whether they protect against costly injuries.
And when it all comes down to it, remember the age-old saying: you usually get what you pay for.