For Ron Hope, value safety manager for Luck Companies, which includes Luck Stone, the largest family-owned operator and producer of construction aggregates in the U.S., the range of gloves on the market can be confusing. In his industry, the primary wearers of hand impact protection are maintenance workers carrying out tasks involving heavy lifting, handling steel and swinging hammers.

“There are so many vendors offering different gloves,” Hope said. “And the cost is not standard either; it varies a lot depending on what you are looking for.

This is symptomatic of the problem affecting many safety and health professionals in construction, manufacturing and oil sectors. As it stands, safety and PPE procurement professionals have no standard way to evaluate and assess the quality of impact protection on offer, and no way of differentiating between the many materials and designs. The lack of a benchmark has brought to surface the clear need for an impact protection standard for end-users to reference.

The current state of impact protection

For many years, there have been U.S. and European standards for industrial gloves that protect from injuries such as cuts, punctures, abrasion and chemical exposure, but until recently there was nothing to help assess the performance of PPE designed to reduce the risk of back-of-hand (dorsal) impact injuries.

The situation only changed in 2016 when the wider European hand protection standard EN 388 was updated to include impact for the first time. This was an important move, welcomed by many manufacturers and end-users in Europe and elsewhere. But the U.S. market remained without any performance-based standard to assess glove impact protection.

In response to this significant standards gap, the main glove manufacturers and material suppliers got together under the auspices of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) to establish testing, classification and labelling requirements for products that offer dorsal impact protection. The brand-new voluntary standard, an industry first, is known as ANSI/ISEA 138, American National Standard for Performance and Classification for Impact-Resistant Hand Protection.

“A standard, as a recommendation at least, with defined performance levels, will help when trying to decide which glove is appropriate for each task,” Hope said. He also points out that a standard should finally allow end-users to start being able to compare like with like. “For the glove manufacturers it will help standardize what they are offering,” he adds.

The standard’s scope

The ANSI/ISEA 138 standard’s scope is to establish “minimum performance, classification and labelling requirements for hand protection products designed to protect the knuckles and fingers from impact forces, while performing occupational tasks.” It aims to evaluate compliant gloves “for their capability to dissipate impact forces on the knuckles and fingers” and to classify them accordingly. “The resulting classifications can be used by employers as a reliable means of comparing different products on an equal basis when selecting hand protection relative to the tasks being performed.”

There are three performance levels specified by the standard, which offer a numerical representation for the impact protection a glove will offer, with the lowest protection offered by level one and the highest by level three. Under the standard, “a higher performance level indicates a greater degree of protection (reduced transmitted force).”

The overall performance level of a glove reflects the lowest performance level recorded, so that if the fingers and thumb meet level one but the knuckles level two, the glove will still be rated as performance level one.

The standard also outlines test requirements, equipment and method, including preparation of samples and conditioning of the gloves. It defines specific test sites for the knuckles and fingers and thumbs and requires that the sites be marked on the outside and back side of the glove.

Another key aspect of the standard is packaging, labeling and product marking. Gloves will be marked with a pictogram at level one, two or three. These markings have to be “visible and legible throughout the normal useful life of the glove.”

Protecting fingers & knuckles

With nearly 300,000 unique cases of reported injuries or illnesses affecting the upper extremities1, 42 percent of which were injuries to the hand, there is everything to gain from an impact protection standard.

The bones and tissues in the back of the hand are all vulnerable to impact injuries, which are common in offshore oil and gas, construction, mining, manufacturing, warehousing and transport industries. Impact-related injuries may be anything from a bump to a bruise to the knuckles, pinching fingers between two pieces of equipment, to a severe bone fracture and everything in between.

The oil and gas sector, which is a large user of impact protection gloves, has collected figures through the International Association of Drilling Contractors showing that in 2016 the fingers remained the most vulnerable part of the body in terms of both lost time and recordable injuries. Injuries to fingers accounted for a third of all total recordable injuries and almost 20 percent of lost time injuries.

Because the ISEA 138 working group was keen to ensure the final standard was really aimed at reducing impact injuries at work, it brought in Dr. Lloyd Champagne, a surgeon based in Phoenix, Arizona, who focuses on plastic and reconstructive hand surgery. His role was to advise on the real-life injuries he sees in his hand trauma practice.

 “The two main problem areas are the fingertips,” Champagne said, “which are very commonly injured because they are the part that is universally in contact with everything, and the big knuckles, which are frequently impacted by things such as wrenches slipping or people catching their hands under the hood of car.”

In addition to keeping workplaces injury-free, the standard also tackles head-on the economic cost of on the job injuries estimated at $142 billion2.

At Luck Stone, Hope is looking forward to using the standard in practice. At end user sites such as his, standardizing protection helps ensure company-wide consistency and engagement. The ISEA 138 standard becomes an ally to help safety teams drive compliance, providing a simple framework to obtain buy-in from upper and middle management, engage with procurement, and educate their workers on choosing and using the right glove for the right task.


  1. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  2. As estimated by the National Safety Council.