We’re in the information age when it comes to work gloves. As gloves become more sophisticated and diverse in their performance characteristics, increasingly sophisticated scoring systems are following close behind to help the buyer determine what performance they can expect from any given glove.

Information about a glove’s resistance to abrasion, cuts, tears, punctures, needle sticks, impacts, chemicals, vibration, and heat are quantified and in many cases tattooed onto the back of the glove. In the case of cut resistance, we’ve got so much overlapping test data flooding the marketplace that you might even say we could do with a little less of it! But that’s a subject for a different article.

As rich as we’ve become with data on our gloves, it would be tempting to think that you could find the ideal glove for your task by simply sorting the values on a spreadsheet. Just plug in the numbers, and up will pop the glove that has the highest scores in the areas you are concerned about at the price point you are looking for.

Now, I don’t disagree that this is a fabulous first step in your selection process, but only as a way to narrow down your choices.  Test scores can help you rule out unsuitable choices, but they won’t always guide you to the best choice for your application. Here’s why:

  1. Lab tests don’t always replicate the hazards you face in real life.
    The tests for many mechanical risks are done using a swatch from the palm of the glove. This does not take into account that many gloves have reinforcements built into them in key areas of the glove. Just because the swatch scored well on the abrasion test, what will that mean if your gloves normally wear out in the thumb crotch first? Maybe another glove that doesn’t score as well in abrasion resistance will last longer for your team because it is constructed to resist abrasions in the high-wear areas where it is most needed.
    This is even more of a critical issue in needle-resistant or high levels of cut resistance. The cut ratings apply to the front of the glove. If you need protection on the back of your hand as well, you can’t assume how much protection there will be without further information.
  2. Testing is not necessarily consistent from one glove to the next.
    The margin of error on risk tests is typically ±10%, which is enough to skew two gloves of equal merit into two different grades. Different labs can run tests on the same gloves and get slightly different results. Different lots of the same glove can have minor variations in their test results. These inconsistencies are not serious enough to undermine the reliability of the tests, but they do support my argument that we should not rely exclusively on tests to select the gloves we buy to outfit our team.
  3. Testing can’t account for personal preference or comfort.
    If you are a glove designer and your boss is telling you to make a glove that tests to certain parameters at a certain price, comfort and utility may take a back seat to your boss’ priorities. It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. A glove can test really well against similarly priced competitors, but will your team be able to stand wearing them for longer than 10 minutes? An uncomfortable glove is not a safe glove because it won’t get worn.

Without reliable testing, it would be very difficult to see the trees for the forest of the thousands of gloves being offered to today’s work force. The information available to us as consumers is, without controversy, a tremendous benefit that empowers us to make informed choices in our glove buying.

Of equal importance, however, is the testing of gloves in real life to determine which glove out of 3 to 5 candidates will actually perform the best. There is no substitute for working with the gloves for a while to see how they perform before making the final decision to go all-in. And don’t forget, your supplier can be a tremendous resource to help you find just the right glove for every member of your team.

David Miller is an Industry Manager for HUB Industrial Supply. He is a Certified Safety Professional and works with managers to effectively implement and manage PPE and MRO programs in the waste and block pallet industry. He may be reached at david@hubindustrial.com. HUB Industrial Supply is an Applied MSSSM company.




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