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Standards for hand protection

Supplier: Showa
23 April, 2008

The AS/NZS 2161 series of Australian/New Zealand Standards for occupational protective gloves, i.e. hand protection, covers areas such as general requirements for manufacturers, mechanical resistance, chemical resistance, and thermal resistance.

The AS/NZS 2161 specifications are adopted from the European equivalents. Such specifications should only ever be used as a general guideline to choosing a glove, not as a fail safe method of deciding what hand protection to use for a given hazard as, for example, more protection may be required, or other factors, such as may influence choice. This is explained more fully in AS/NZS 2161.1 Occupational protective gloves - Selection, use and maintenance

During the past two years, there have been an increasing number of companies requesting specific test results for gloves they are looking to use in their workplace. When talking with these companies, they are highlighting the reason for asking for this data is due to the fact that they have been told that the test data is the main factor in how they should determine what hand protection to use for their site, in particular, mechanical protection.

This may be misleading and dangerous. A high rated cut-resistant glove may not provide the grip or dexterity needed for a task and therefore may create a hazard because of this. Other factors need to be considered, which are covered later.

Standards are designed to show what tolerance to criteria a given product has under certain test conditions These criteria and methods are the same for all products tested to allow a person to see how each product rates under those specific criteria.

The challenge with this type of testing is that it cannot replicate a hazard you would see in a workplace. For example, the cut test for hand protection is done with a round blade, not a pointed blade, so it in no way is representative of the use of a knife in a warehouse or that used in an Abattoir. The puncture test is done with a steel stylus with a point size of 1mm, which is larger than a small nail, shard of glass or syringe.

These are only two examples of tests that are done by standards, but they are the two most common results people are asking for. The sample that is used by testing authorities is taken from the palm area of the glove, therefore the results are only applicable to that part of a glove. The testing is also only done on a dry sample, which means that as soon as you get a glove wet, those results are no longer applicable

There are no complaints about how test houses are conducting their testing as they are there to show the results over consistent testing methods for a range of hand protection and this is done very successfully. It is not physically possible to replicate all hazards in all work places so a standard test method is the best that can be achieved. In New Zealand recently, it was shown that a glove claiming to have a cut resistant level of 4, actually had a cut resistance level of 1.

This leads us to ask how this could happen and could it happen here in Australia. The simple answer is yes it could. The test house where this glove was tested was NATA accredited and the tests were done in an accurate manner. The problem lies in what quality of product a manufacturer can sustain consistently and what quality assurance programs they have in place to monitor this. It is not enough to show that several samples have a certain rating from the test house, you have to have other processes in place to maintain that level and quality during manufacturing.

While testing should be carried out for all hand protection produced, this should always be only one small factor in the determination of what hand protection should be used for a specific or range of hazards. It is not uncommon to see a relatively low rated cut resistant glove be able to provide more than enough protection for a hazard based on other features of the glove. It does not matter what piece of hand protection is used, there will always have to be a decision on what compromise has to be made. That compromise may be dexterity, durability, price, cut resistance etc.

What is truly important is taking all aspects of the hazard into consideration. The following are examples of what should be considered.

  • What is the actual hazard?
  • How much dexterity is required?
  • What length glove is needed?
  • Are there liquids present? If so, what are those liquids?
  • How much grip is required?
  • How long do you want the gloves to last?
  • Do you want to launder the gloves?
  • Is there any heat present?
  • Are different sizes needed?
  • Is product protection important?

Another common question is what level of protection is kept after a glove is used or laundered. With laundering, a lot can come down to who launders it and what process they use. Many have tried to do this, but very few have succeeded at it. There are so many variables involved, such as the type of hazard the glove is used for, the amount of pressure a wearer exerts using the glove, whether the glove gets wet during the wearing period etc.

There is a company operating in Australia who will be able to determine this some time in 2007 as they are in the processes of setting up a facility that will be able to test in accordance with the AS/NZS 2161 standards, so that testing can be conducted on laundered gloves. This will then alleviate any concerns that users may have as to the quality of a laundered product they receive back. At this stage though the simple answer is no-one knows what protection a glove will be capable of offering once it has been laundered.

Standards are an important tool to make sure that all manufactured products claiming a certain type of protection, are able to do so under strict test criteria. Combining this data with other information gathered and looking at what choices you have available to you, means you should be able to choose hand protection that is suitable for the task and accepted by the worker.