PPE

Sophisticated Solutions

Hand protection targets job-specific needs

September 1, 2011
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If you shop at a local garden supply center for gloves to wear around the house and yard, you may be surprised at the assortment of products available — cotton Jersey, cowhide and PVC coated, to name a few.

You’ll also find a wide range of products when you peruse hand protection products for an industrial environment — but with one distinct difference. Today’s industrial gloves are sophisticated solutions with features that go beyond protection, providing dexterity, comfort and other specific benefits to fulfill workers’ unmet needs.

Safety gloves for the construction industry, for example, protect against hazards typical of a work site, including cuts from saws, metal and other sharp edges, burns from torches and welding equipment, and puncture wounds from staples and nails. Construction workers often require gloves that combine properties such as cut resistance and high visibility for individuals who labor near a busy highway, or flame resistance and dexterity for employees who weld steel as part of their jobs.

Workers within the manufacturing industry often require gloves that provide greater protection in specific areas — such as over the knuckles or across the back of the hand — to protect them from job-specific hazards such as bumps or scrapes. Individuals working on an assembly line may need knitted gloves with a varying stitch design in multiple zones for greater stretch and flexibility, which also helps reduce hand fatigue.

Responding to workers’ unmet needs

Many new products on the market today result from specific requests from the field followed by extensive research, laboratory testing and on-the-job trials. While workers desire many of the same characteristics they requested in hand protection products a decade ago — greater protection without added weight and thickness — many need more sophisticated products with features that are not always easy to achieve.

A worker involved in light assembly, for example, may require the high level of cut protection characteristic of a bulky, string knit P-aramid glove but want the dexterity and second-skin fit typical of a lightweight glove with a nylon liner and foam nitrile coating.

Another worker may require the combination of cut protection and arc flash protection that is generally achieved with thick, bulky cut and sewn gloves or by donning multiple pairs of gloves but may need the dexterity of a lightweight knitted glove.

When glove manufacturers receive customer requests for protective products for specific applications, many begin the development process by assessing the availability of existing technologies that might provide the desired properties. They also consider the market potential for any new product and whether it will satisfy unmet industry needs.

To determine which materials will fulfill user needs, glove manufacturers employ standards and test methods from recognized organizations such as ASTM International, European Standards and AATCC. They also develop their own internal test methods and equipment to simulate or predict glove performance during actual use. As development progresses, they will look to end-users to test the product on the job.

For example, this process has been used to develop a new flame-retardant glove to meet workers’ hand protection needs within the oil sands industry in Canada. The glove needed to provide several performance features, including a high level of cut protection and abrasion resistance, a good grip in an oily environment and flame resistance. Because traditional yarns and coatings used in the existing range of products did not offer all of the required features, different materials were researched and tested, with many prototypes tested, to find the right combination of fiber, yarn and coating to meet workers’ protection requirements.

Smart gloves in the future

Based on recent requests and the changing industrial environment, customers will likely require smart gloves for a range of tasks performed in the future. Smart gloves provide a benefit to the user beyond basic protection from cuts or abrasions, such as skin treatment or antimicrobial properties.

Gloves developed in the years ahead will likely interact with the user. A hand protection product may, for example, be able to respond to an unexpected force to the hand. A glove may be able to change the environment around the hand to provide a constant temperature or a certain level of humidity. Researchers are presently studying the feasibility of producing gloves capable of indicating when they have passed their useful life, which will be especially beneficial to the chemical industry.

As industrial technology becomes more sophisticated, hand protection solutions must follow suit by combining insights gained from basic research with a better understanding of unmet user challenges to create products that address workers’ real needs — regardless of the industrial sector in which they are used.

As the global need for hand protection increases, researchers will continue to seek new technologies and determine the best methods to incorporate these technologies into highly functional products. They will also continue to create new test methods to confirm that hand protection products perform as intended and keep workers safe in real life situations.

For further information about new glove products and technologies, visit www.ansellpro.com or call (800) 800-0444.

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