Should glove standards go global?

December 9, 2009
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No glove performs at the highest level in all categories. Professionals involved in glove selection must assess which factors are critical based on the individual and the hazards.

Requests are increasing from safety professionals for technical information on every type of glove made. As a technical support professional for a major glove manufacturer, I find these questions are becoming more commonplace:
  • What glove characteristics are required to protect employees from hazards?
  • Will this glove protect against a single hazard or multiple hazards?
  • Will this glove contaminate the products being manufactured?
  • Will the ingredients in this glove cause allergies?
  • Is this glove safe for handling food and pharmaceuticals?
  • Can you wear this glove and still be able to perform the tasks and manipulations required for your job?
Although the trend for more specific technical and testing information is a positive one, it brings about the need for another trend: the global standardization of performance ratings, especially for companies that source gloves on a global basis.

Establishing glove standards
Technical committees in many industries define the performance criteria of PPE items, including gloves, by generating or referring to standards. In the U.S., the American Society for Testing and Materials’ Protective Clothing Committee has been writing standards for more than 25 years. The ASTM F 739 Standard Test Method for Resistance of Protective Clothing Materials to Permeation by Liquids or Gases Under Conditions of Continuous Contact and the ASTM F 1383-96 Standard Test Method for Resistance of Protective Clothing Materials to Permeation by Liquids or Gases Under Conditions of Intermittent Contact, for example, define the methods used to test the permeation of PPE materials by chemicals.

Individual ASTM standards also address physical properties of glove material, including tension, tear resistance, stiffness, abrasion, performance at low temperatures, flammability, puncture resistance, heat resistance, thermal insulation, particle contamination, penetration by liquids, fit, and sizing.

Most standards used worldwide for establishing glove performance and protective qualities are similar to or based on ASTM standards. Organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association have established glove performance standards that rely on ASTM-established performance standards.

With the trend toward more testing and information about glove characteristics, the publication of physical performance ratings such as cut resistance, abrasion resistance, tear resistance, puncture resistance, and dexterity may become as common as the publication of permeation data for chemical-resistant gloves. But what standard should be used?

Standard comparison
In the U.S., reporting of glove performance related to chemical resistance or physical hazards is strictly voluntary. In contrast, the European Community (EC) requirements for reporting a glove’s performance characteristics are law. As of 1995, all gloves sold in EC countries must comply with the 1992 Personal Protective Equipment Directive for the European Community and carry the CE marking. This directive from the European Committee for Standardization, or the Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN), prohibits selling any glove in EC countries until it has been tested by an independent, certified laboratory and ratings are subsequently labeled on the glove itself or the smallest unit of packaging.

Labeling informs end users of the intended purpose of the glove and ensures the glove is not harmful to the wearer. Instructions for use, including the life expectancy of the glove, must be included in the smallest unit of packaging. The glove must comply with uniform sizing requirements set by the EN 420 Standard for Labeling. Each glove must be labeled with the name of the manufacturer, item name, size and CE marking. Packaging must be labeled with the name of the manufacturer, glove designation, size, CE marking, contact information, and date of obsolescence.

The CE marking must include one or more pictograms showing the performance levels of the glove against specific risks. The Instructions for Use document must be included in the smallest unit of packaging and must include care instructions and details of any substance used in the glove materials that is known to cause allergies.

There are some differences between the ASTM and EC standards. For example, the EC standard for chemical resistance, EN 374, rates gloves based on breakthrough time normalized to 1.0 micrograms per square centimeter per minute, whereas the ASTM rates gloves based on breakthrough time normalized to 0.1 micrograms per square centimeter per minute, resulting in an EC standard that is 10 times less sensitive than ASTM’s. With the ratings (as shown below) appearing so similar, this can become an important point.

For mechanical risks, the CE Standard EN 388 for Mechanical Hazards must be followed in EC countries. The pictogram for mechanical risks includes four digits directly above the mechanical risk pictogram. The four digits give the performance in mechanical risk standards, as follows:

First rating: Abrasion resistance ranges from 0 to 4 and is based on the number of cycles required to abrade through a sample glove using a specially designed machine for measuring the abrasion of textiles.

Second rating: Cut resistance ranges from 0 to 5 and is based on the cut resistance of a rotating circular blade with mass applied to it.

Third rating: Tear resistance ranges from 0 to 4 and is the force in Newtons needed to tear a previously cut specimen.

Fourth rating: Puncture resistance ranges from 0 to 5 and is the force in Newtons needed to puncture the PPE material using a specially designed stylus.

In summary, as shown in the tables below, a glove rated 2/3/2/1 would exceed 500 abrasion cycles, 5.0 cut-resistance cycles, 25 Newtons tear resistance, and 20 Newtons puncture resistance.

ISEA weighs in
To add to the glove standards puzzle, the International Safety Equipment Association also has written a standard: ANSI/ISEA 105- 2000 the American National Standard for Hand Protection Selection Criteria. This standard addresses physical and chemical hazards and, as shown below, has both similarities and differences with the CE standards. ISEA uses ASTM standards for its ratings.

Although the chemical resistance ratings system looks identical to the EN 374 system, with ratings of 0 to 6 based on the breakthrough time, remember that the permeation detection level for the CE standard is 10 times greater.

The ISEA rates mechanical risks, as shown below. Again, the rating system is similar to the EN 388 system, with slight differences in the ranking system for puncture resistance. In addition, the cut-resistance test is different, using grams of force required to cut through a test specimen versus a number of cycles.

The CEN Directives control whether a manufacturer can sell a product. Without the certified third-party testing, documentation and labeling for intended use and protection criteria, a glove cannot be sold in EC countries. There is no such law in the U.S. Although the ASTM, NFPA, ANSI, and ISEA organizations provide an incomparable wealth of information and tools to ensure worker safety, they lack the “teeth” of the CEN because their standards are not law.

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