When you think about it, you spend more time looking at the back of your hand than the palm when working with your hands. The back of your hand is called the dorsal aspect of the hand, and since much work is done with the palms down and the dorsal side exposed, it’s vulnerable. Many times, when hands are injured at work, the damage is done to the dorsal side, which is complex network of small bones, muscles and tendons. Dorsal side injuries are particularly common in oil and gas drilling, mining, and heavy construction.

Glove suppliers and safety experts have recognized for years the damage that impact hazards can cause to the fingers, knuckles and bones in the back of the hand. Many glove suppliers market gloves with specific designs and materials to protect wearers against back-of-hand broken bones, pinching and bruising. Impact-resistant work gloves have unique protective features such as Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) or Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) and proprietary foams that shield the top of your hand from unexpected impact, smashes, crashes and abrasion injuries. Soft, flexible, shock-absorbing pads can be strategically placed along the back of the hand for maximum cushioning while not interfering with how your hands function. These heavy-duty gloves are most commonly used in automotive, oil and gas, construction, heavy equipment operation and towing/transportation industries.

Being aware that dorsal protection work gloves are widely available on the market is a start. But how does a purchaser know the quality of that protection? Currently, there are no hand protection standards for measuring hand impact reduction. Manufacturers are not required to test the impact protection of their gloves, and this can lead to various claims and sub-optimal protection. How do you evaluate and compare impact protection offered by various glove models?

Filling the void

The sole international standard regarding anti-impact hand protection addresses only knuckle protection. But this void is soon to be filled by a U.S. voluntary standard – ISEA 138, Performance and Classification of Impact Resistance Hand Protection. ISEA is the International Safety Equipment Association, made up of the leading personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers, including glove manufacturers, as well as other safety product suppliers. ISEA has a Hand Protection Group of 22 glove manufacturers, and in 2016 the group began work on setting a uniform standard to measure the reduction of peak impact force across the hand.

The testing and performance criteria standard originally was conceived as a component to the widely-used ANSI/ISEA 105-2016, American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification. But now, according to ISEA Director of Membership and Technical Services Christine Fargo, ISEA 138 will be a stand-alone document rather than added content to the ISEA 105 standard. ISEA expects the standards-setting process to be completed by end of 2018, according to Fargo.

According to ISEA, glove suppliers and workplace safety experts recognize that impact hazards can cause injuries to the fingers, knuckles and bones in the back of the hand. Many suppliers, such as D3O, Superior Glove, Mechanix, MCR Safety, Majestic, Ironclad Performance Wear, Condor, Uline, Magid and Impacto and others offer gloves with features designed to protect wearers against these injuries, but to date there are no uniform tests to evaluate gloves for impact protection. The ISEA project will focus on developing industry-accepted test criteria to measure the reduction of peak impact force across the hand, and a set of classifications to enable users to select gloves suited to their work environments.

Ironclad, on its website, posts details about measuring peak impact force reduction with gloves being worn on a mannequin hand, while the force measurements should be taken on the surface of the hand beneath the protective glove. The hand must mimic the soft tissue and hard structure (bones) of the human hand, as well as the three dimensional shape of the hand, says Ironclad. The impact measurements can be taken from three regions: the metacarpal region, the fingers, and the knuckles, and must be presented as a percentage of reduction in peak impact force at each region of the hand.

An 80-percent reduction in peak impact force equates to a 200-pound impact being reduced to a 40-pound impact (likely to cause bruising only), according to the Ironclad post. Thresholds for injuries vary widely from person to person and between different pinching, bruising, and fracture injuries, according to Ironclad.

Ask for impact protection

Global Sales and Marketing Manager, Rodney Taylor, who leads D3O’s Industrial Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) business, explained in an ISEA press release:

“In North America, there are really no government mandated performance standards in place, like we see in some other regions of the world with large volume PPE consumption. The result is that safety professionals are faced with the daunting task of wading through thousands of different products – all with different performance claims – to select the appropriate PPE for their workers.

“For impact protective gloves, performance can vary widely by manufacturer. Yet, without a performance standards infrastructure in place for impact protection, there is no reliable means of making comparisons between different products on an equal basis.

“Standards provide an objective means of evaluating performance and reduce complexity in the purchasing process. But, in a voluntary standards compliance environment like the U.S., manufacturers will only produce products that meet standards if there is demand from end users. So there is a burden on PPE purchasers to request products from the value chain that meet specific standards.”