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Thu 8 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Gloved up

With injuries to hands making up one of the largest categories in the industrial sector, there's never been a better time to take a closer look at protecting fingers and thumbs. SFS has a rundown of what’s on the market.

With injuries to hands making up one of the largest categories in the industrial sector, there's never been a better time to take a closer look at protecting fingers and thumbs. SFS has a rundown of what's on the market.

Ask any worker, be it a welder, a construction labourer or an oil rigger, which tool they use the most in their line of work, and the answer they give will probably vary according to the job they do. Yet in fact, all three disciplines (and indeed, many more) use exactly the same tools most of all - their hands.

Given the amount of use a worker will get out of their hands, understandably these extremities can face a significant risk from injury, be it from extreme temperatures, blades or dangerous chemicals.

Wearing the proper glove permits the worker to do his duty under the best conditions. Someone who feels safe will work better and be more efficient. - Hugo Laverdin, Delta Plus Middle East.

Therefore it's absolutely essential that any company in any industry which features risks to hands invested in adequate protection.

"40% of injuries that occur in the workplace occur on the hand. That's an average across engineering, construction, the more specific industries," says Steve Donaghy, glove product manager for Sperian.

"Most of those injuries are based on cuts, be it a nuisance injury or more serious. What hand protection does is help prevent those types of injuries."

Broadly speaking, gloves used in heavy industries such as construction, or oil and gas, need to be one of four things; abrasion resistant, cut and puncture resistant, heat resistant and chemical resistant.

With companies offering a vast variety of gloves combining different features to different extents, it is vital to select the right gloves for the job. Doing so helps enhance a worker's productivity while performing a task, not to mention reducing the likelihood of financially costly and reputation-damaging lost time injuries.

"Wearing the proper glove permits the worker to do his duty under the best conditions. Someone who feels safe will work better and be more efficient," says Hugo Laverdin, corporate sales manager, Delta Plus Middle East.

Selecting the right glove depends on correctly identifying the risks. "[Clients] need to asses their risk and they need to try to eliminate or isolate risk. That's the first enquiry. If they have gone through that risk assessment and seen there are risks available, they need to wear the proper personal protective equipment," says Guido Van Duren, Technical Manager, Ansell Healthcare Europe.

Nevertheless, some suppliers feel that clients still have a tendency to select gloves solely on the basis of price.

"There are a lot of gloves used in the industry which are bought on price rather than application. If you get the correct glove for the job, then you have to weight the cost up against things like reduction of hand injuries," warns Donaghy.

Assisting clients in glove selection are European regulations, which can provide an indication of what functions a glove is best suited for. Seven different regulations govern glove testing and from these regulations, gloves receive a rating for each function.

Cut-busters

Applications that involve working with blades or sharp objects call for use of cut- and puncture-resistant gloves. In this incidence, the aim of the gloves is to provide a temporary barrier between a soft hand and a sharp object.

"Nothing is ‘cutproof', but gloves give you resistance against cuts," wants Donaghy.

Gloves can be made tough enough to temporarily withstand such accidents through the use of strong but flexible manmade fibres. The fibres are knitted together in order to provide the best protection.

Van Duren identifies Kevlar and ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (also known as Dyneema or Spectra) as providing particularly high cut resistance.

These fibres can also be combined with other materials such as polyester or stainless steel to provide different levels of cut resistance and other characteristics such as dexterity and flexibility.

Coatings can also be applied to the gloves to provide addition protection. "You can have different knitted gloves and if needed, you can add a coating on top of these gloves to provide liquid repellence or oil repellence depending if required," says Van Duren.

Coatings can however affect the overall performance. "If you fully coat the glove it becomes less flexible so generally most cut-resistant gloves are either knitted or knitted-coated on the palm and fingers," says Donaghy.

Chemical gloves

While coatings aren't always necessary for cut and puncture protection, they're essential for gloves designed to resist chemicals in applications such as the oil and gas market.

Gloves can be coated in natural rubber for handling bases and dilute acids, while nitrile rubber provides protection against petroleum-based products.

The first pre-requisite of a chemical resistant glove is that it must be impermeable to liquid, and as a result, European standards for chemical resistant gloves include a leakage test.

Companies that test their gloves to European standards should be able to provide clients with chemical resistance tables, which identify which gloves protect most effectively against a range of different chemicals.

As well as being resistant to hazardous chemicals, it's also important for such gloves to have enough grip for handling materials, an area where previously glove manufacturers had trouble with. "When you're dealing with chemicals [the gloves] are resistant but they could also be quite slippery as well. We have developed a certain technology that provides an excellent wet grip," says Van Duren. Hot gloves

Another category of importance to industry in the GCC is heat-resistant gloves. Workers who are carrying out welding, or operating in foundries or engineering plants, generally will need heat resistant gloves in order to protect their hands from serious burns.

Ratings for heat resistant gloves cover elements such as convective heat, contact heat and molten splashes. The highest European rated gloves can provide protection against temperatures as high as 500°C.

There's a lot of gloves used in the industry which are bought on price rather than application. - Steve Donaghy, Sperian.

Generally, heat resistant gloves are made from polyester cloth or Kevlar. According to Donaghy, there is usually a heat resistant material between the outer layer of the glove and the inner liner.

New gloves

 Experts say that the market for safety gloves is positively booming. Ansell reports a doubling of turnover in the last five years. "The market is growing tremendously, it's because people are becoming more conscious about the need to use safety gloves," says Van Duren.

"In the past you had a lot of low-quality leather imports, but people are more conscious now that those kinds of products aren't giving the protection you need."

Nevertheless, some suppliers still believe that leather gloves remain popular in the Middle East. "In the UAE, the construction field is probably the biggest user of gloves. Leather and dipped textile gloves are probably the most current in demand," says Laverdin.

Despite the enduring popularity of the leather glove, Laverdin says that there is still demand for innovation, and as a result, glove technology is advancing to meet market demand.

"Our end-users require gloves that are more comfortable. They look for better performance in dexterity, grabbing and ergonomics, with a decreasing cost," he says.

New technologies mean there has been a move away from the traditional belief that the thicker and heavier the glove, the more protection it should offer, opening up a whole new market of lighter, thinner but high-performing hand protection.

"Ten years ago, people were always asking for heavy gloves, because they felt they were more protected if they had very thick gloves," says Van Duren.

"Now because there's more thinner gloves available, customers get used to thinner gloves, and they feel of course they are also protected with lighter gloves."

Comfort continues to be an important factor in glove design, with newer, more comfortable materials. Some gloves are made with polyurethane and are usually manufactured with the solvent dimethylformamide (DMF), which can cause skin irritation.

"Normally the solvent disappears during production but traces will always remain," says Van Duren. As a result, some manufacturers are now able to offer gloves made with water-based polyurethane, reducing the risk of irritation. Furthermore, the use of water is believed to be more environmentally sustainable than using chemical solvents.

Hands on the future

One of the major drivers behind the increasing use of safety gloves in other parts of the world is the legal culture, according to Donaghy.

"There's massive litigation from people getting their hands cut," he says, referring to the UK market in particular. "If the correct protection hasn't been used, the company could be liable for compensation."

While the Gulf doesn't have the hampering ‘compensation culture' that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK, companies are waking up to the importance of protecting their staff.

"If you consider the European and Middle East [safety glove] markets, there are no significant differences," says Van Duren. "The leather products, you see them less and less. The user knows to wear the right protection and to use good quality products."

As a result, it may be time for Gulf businesses to put on high-tech gloves, and wave goodbye to cheap, thick, unsophisticated hand protection.

Standard kit

• European standards for safety gloves

• EN 374 (Parts 1 to 6) Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms

• EN 381 (Parts 4& 7) Protective gloves for users of hand held chain saws

• EN 388 Protective gloves: Mechanical test methods and specifications

• EN 407 Protective gloves against thermal hazards

• EN 420 General requirements for gloves

• EN 511 Protective gloves against cold

• EN 659 Fire-fighters' gloves: Protection against heat and flame

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