A mill worker was feeding strips of wood into a splicer, a machine that cuts, presses and glues together wood strips to create hardwood veneer. The mill, located just east of North Bay, Ont., produced hardwood plywood and was owned by Columbia Forest Products.
The worker’s hand was suddenly drawn into the machine by the wood and the fingertips came in contact with a pinch point. The worker suffered crushing injuries to the fingers and amputation of the tip of a middle finger.
The majority of injuries to the hands are impact-related, causing cut and crushing injuries. Despite their frequency, there has never been a North American standard specifically targeted at back-of-hand impacts. The forthcoming publication of ISEA 138, Performance and Classification for Impact Resistant Hand Protection, by the International Safety Equipment Association, seeks to change that.
The new standard sets industry-accepted guidelines for testing impact-resistant gloves and defines three levels of impact resistance. Safety managers will be able to compare different gloves providing back-of-hand impact protection, validate manufacturers’ performance claims and select gloves that provide hand protection appropriate to the job task.
“A huge number of impact-resistant gloves come on the market every month and end users have no easy, clear means of making objective comparisons,” says Rodney Taylor, global sales and marketing manager for industrial personal protective equipment (PPE) at Blacksburg, Va.-based D3O. “The standard will help them cut through all that by establishing three very clear, objective performance levels.”
Hands are the most often-injured body parts. There are about 500,000 injuries to hands in Canada every year, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. In 2016, there were 7,902 time-loss injuries to hands (excluding fingers) and 20,020 time-loss injuries involving fingers only.
Injuries to the back of the hand can result in bruises, cuts, lacerations, abrasions, punctures, soft tissue damage and severe bone fractures of the metacarpal bones (the bones between the wrist and fingers) and the phalanges (the finger and thumb bones). Fingers are particularly vulnerable to injury, and in some industries, such as oil and gas, injuries involving the fingers occur frequently.
Impact-related injuries occur in several ways, says Jason Atkinson, safety specialist at Acklands-Grainger. First, a hand may be struck by an object, as when a worker using a hammer accidently strikes her own or another worker’s hand. Alternatively, the hand may slip off something, such as a wrench, and strike something else, hurting the hand and knuckles.
An injury may also occur when a worker’s hand is caught between two objects that strike each other, as when, for example, a worker is loading a vehicle trunk and another person closes the lid on the back of the worker’s hand. Crush injuries are often caused by falling objects, drawers and doors. Hands and fingers may also get caught or crushed in the chains, wheels, rollers or gears of the equipment being held.
“It’s a lot of force that generates it and typically it happens by accident, where the job itself doesn’t cause the hazard. It’s when the hand slips or something else slips and falls on it,” says Atkinson, who is based in Burnaby, B.C.
Back-of-hand injuries are very common. About 75 per cent of all hand injuries are the result of “struck by” and “caught in/on/between” incidents, according to Ontario’s Workplace Safety North. They also tend to be under-reported, being sometimes misidentified as cut injuries. They occur to workers in many industries, including automotive, construction, heavy equipment operation, cargo handling, mining and oil and gas. They can also happen in any workplace; they are a common risk for people who work in manufacturing, warehouses, transport and towing.
“There’s no industry that wouldn’t be affected; it depends on the type of work that workers are doing,” Atkinson says.
The most commonly used material for back-of-hand protection is thermoplastic rubber (TPR). The TPR forms a rigid rubber padding going across the back of the hand and knuckles and down the fingers and, sometimes, the back of the thumbs. The rest of the glove could contain materials designed to protect against another kind of hazard, such as abrasion or chemical exposure.
Compared to leather or gloves without TPR, the TPR backing does provide impact protection, Atkinson says. TPR provides shock-absorbing and deflecting properties for the back of the glove. It also has some elasticity, which allows the glove to remain pliable for ease of job performance.
However, the protective ability of gloves labelled “TPR” can vary widely, and in the absence of any sure way to evaluate protective properties, it is impossible for safety managers to make comparisons between any of the different TPR gloves available on the market. The only existing standard for impact resistance designed to protect the back of the hand and knuckles — the European EN 388: 2016 Protective Gloves Against Mechanical Risks — defines criteria on a pass-or-fail basis only. It sets no rating levels. Moreover, EN 388 was not specifically designed for industrial gloves and is not used much in North America.
“That’s the crux of the need for a change in the standard (ANSI/ISEA 105: 2016, Hand Protection Classification). Currently, you can measure anything from cut resistance — so you know how much cut or abrasion resistance a glove might offer — to permeation of chemicals or blood-borne pathogens to protect for a certain job task,” says Jeremy Slater, Vancouver-based regional sales manager at Acklands-Grainger.
“This new standard is just taking one common injury, impact to the back of the hand, and putting a finer measurement on it so that people select the correct level of protection for a particular job task. We’ve seen that across all kinds of safety products: one size does not fit all. I think this will make people safer at the end of the day.”
ISEA 138 sets out performance standards, including minimum performance requirements, for industrial gloves designed to protect the knuckles and fingers from impact. It classifies materials used in back-of-hand protection according to protective ability and specifies a pictogram mark, or label, to be used for each of the three different levels of protection.
Moreover, unlike the EN 388, which covers only the knuckles, ISEA 138 includes knuckles and fingers, on the understanding that testing at many places on the fingers reflects the way many injuries actually occur in industrial workplaces.
In addition to establishing objective performance levels, the purpose of the standard was to come up with an agreed test method. Impact resistance is the ability of a material to withstand a high force or shock applied to it over a short period of time. Testing determines the ability of the materials used to absorb energy during an impact. Impact tests are generally conducted during the production of PPE, such as helmets and safety goggles.
The test method defined in ISEA 138 uses a drop rig, Taylor says. A sample of the glove material is placed on a curved anvil of a specified radius. A weighted striker is then dropped onto the curved anvil. The forces are recorded by computer through the duration of the impact, and the peak transmitted force is used to determine the performance of the glove.
The writers of ISEA 138 have also included a requirement for independent laboratory testing, Taylor adds. To be compliant with the standard, test results must be provided by labs with a certificate of accreditation meeting ISO 17025:2017, General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories.
“The real value of that is that manufacturers will not be able to self-certify their own results, which is common in North American standards,” he says.
The absence of an impact-resistance standard can result in under- or over-specification of gloves, Taylor says. With the new standard’s establishment of industry-accepted test criteria and scale of performance levels, safety managers should be better able to choose protective gloves appropriate to the specific hazards of a task in a cost-effective way.
“Prior to the standard, there’s not been any objective means for an end user to evaluate the performance of back-of-hand protection on industrial gloves. And frankly, most manufacturers didn’t put out any claims about the performance of the back-of-hand materials they were using,” he says.
“All that is going to change. End users are now going to ask for a specific level of performance on the gloves that they’re purchasing, which means manufacturers will have to start testing back-of-hand materials used in their gloves. And they’re going to have to start reporting that. So, back-of-hand materials move away from mere decorative features to being true performance components of the gloves.”
While the introduction of a new standard is certainly a step forward for safety managers who need to choose the right impact-resistant protection for workers, it also means there’s an extra factor to consider when making a choice, Slater says. As the selection process becomes more involved, it’s all the more important for companies to seek good advice.
“There are multiple different sizes of hands doing multiple different job tasks across different industries, and now we’re going to add different levels of protection in this particular area — not to mention there are combinations of other types of protection that are added into gloves as well,” he says. “It really complicates things when you’re trying to make a selection. And so, when choosing a supplier, it’s extremely important that you have one who is knowledgeable about the changes and who can help partner with you to make the right decision.”
ISEA 138 is being produced by a specialist subgroup of ISEA’s hand protection group. The working group includes representatives of seven major glove manufacturers and has had the contributions of a physician who specializes in plastic and reconstructive hand surgery. The standard is expected to be published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) by the end of 2018.
An investigation into the plywood mill incident by the Ontario Ministry of Labour found the accident had been caused by improper guarding on the machine. A Plexiglas guard put in place to prevent workers’ hands coming in contact with the pinch point had become warped in several places by the heat generated by the machine. This warping led to gaps along the guard.
The employer pleaded guilty to failing to ensure an in-running nip hazard was equipped with, and guarded by, a guard or other device that would prevent access to the machine’s pinch point, as required by the Regulations for Industrial Establishments. The company was fined $80,000 for a health and safety violation that resulted in serious finger injuries to an employee.
Linda Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, who has been writing for COS for seven years.
Preventing back-of-hand Injuries
Most hand injuries can be prevented by approaching work tasks with caution. Fracture and crush hazards can be reduced by wearing the proper PPE and following these steps:
• Keep hands clear of operating equipment.
• Position hands carefully so fingers can’t get caught.
• Feed spinning or feeding machines with a stick
• Always use machine safety guards.
• Be alert: Look for falling objects.
• Never take short cuts.
• Ensure bench-mounted machines are secured before starting.
• Make sure gloves or other loose materials don’t get caught in machines.
• Remove rings or other jewelry before operating machines.