Cuts. Some are positive – like tax cuts, price cuts and (sometimes) haircuts. Others are not so popular – like budget cuts, staff cuts and (sometimes) haircuts. But the ones we all wish to avoid are physical cuts to our person – injuries caused by handling sharp objects without wearing proper protection. In 2019/2020, according to figures from the UK Health and Safety Executive, more than 6,300 people sustained ‘lacerations and open wounds’ in the workplace.
Although exact figures aren’t available for how many of these injuries were specifically to the hands, it’s reasonable to assume that a significant proportion of them were. In workplaces everywhere, every day, employees manually handle and move any number of objects with sharp edges or points, such as sheet metal or glass, broken glass or ceramics, knives, blades, nails, etc.
It’s crucial, therefore, that they wear the appropriate hand protection, made from cut resistant material, to make sure they don’t end up as one of those statistics.
What are the different levels of cut resistance?
EN388 is the European standard under which safety gloves are tested for the protection they provide against cuts, tears, puncture and abrasion. It includes two tests for cut resistance specifically. The original one, called the coupe test, measures cut resistance to a circular blade and is rated on a scale of 1 to 5. In the 2016 revision of the EN388 standard, a further test was included. This is the ISO 13997 cut test or the TDM test, in which protective gloves are tested for their resistance to being cut by a straight blade.
The ISO 13997 test involves drawing a straight blade across a sample of glove material in a single movement, at a constant speed but with increasing force (measured in Newtons – N), until it breaks through the material. The cut resistance of the material is then rated from A to F, where level A (equivalent to a rating of 1–2 in the coupe test) indicates a force between 2N and 5N is required to break through the material, while level F (equivalent to a rating of 5 in the coupe test) indicates a force greater than 30N is required.
What exactly are cut resistant gloves made of?
What materials are used in cut resistant gloves and do these make them actually cut proof? The second of those questions is the easiest to answer first: no – gloves that provide mechanical protection against cuts cannot be cut proof. They’d have to be made of rigid material to offer that guarantee, and ‘rigid’ and ‘hands’ simply don’t go together.
The hands need to be able to move and grip and bend when working, so the gloves protecting them must be similarly flexible but with the high strength required to prevent sharp edges, blades and points from penetrating through to the skin.
So, back to what they’re made of. Various high performance materials is the answer, some of which sound like James Bond villains, rather than forces for good!
Kevlar® is a synthetic para-aramid fibre that is said to be five times stronger than steel per unit weight. On its own, it typically provides level B to C cut resistance.
Spectra® is another synthetic fibre made from ultra-lightweight polyethylene. It is said to be 15 times stronger than steel at the same weight and have 40% greater specific strength than aramid fibre. On its own, it typically provides level B to D cut resistance.
Dyneema® is trademarked as “the world’s strongest fibre”, at 15 times stronger than steel per unit weight, and is made from ultra-lightweight polyethylene. On its own, it typically provides level B to D cut resistance.
Glass fibre yarn is smooth and lightweight, offering high tensile strength. On its own, it typically provides level B cut resistance.
Basalt rock, when crushed, yields fine filaments that are stronger than glass fibre and offer high cut resistance and tensile strength.
Stainless steel is extremely durable and provides very high cut resistance, typically achieving a level E rating.
- Combined yarns/fibres can provide even higher levels of cut protection thanks to the combined strength of the materials used. For example, steel and glass together can provide the maximum level F cut resistance.
High performance combinations for high cut resistance
You’ll have noted the emphasis on the levels of cut resistance for each of these materials ‘on its own’. That’s because cut resistant gloves are most commonly made from varying combinations of stainless steel, glass fibre and high-performance fibres. This is the case with the nine cut resistant products in the Unigloves Nitrex range.
For example, Nitrex 241OR Palm Coated Safety Gloves (cut level B) and Nitrex 242D Foam Nitrile/PU Touch Screen Hydrophobic Work Gloves (cut level D) both feature a seamless nylon liner with HPPE (high performance polyethylene) and encapsulated glass fibre.
Meanwhile, Nitrex 241ND Sandy Nitrile Gloves (cut level D) and Nitrex 241PC18 PU Palm Coated Gloves (cut level C), in addition to both those materials, contain a steel core for extra strength and cut resistance.
As for Nitrex 245N Sandy Nitrile Gloves (cut level D), these are constructed from HPPE, steel and basalt for high-level cut resistance combined with comfort and dexterity.
The majority of the cut-resistant gloves in the Nitrex range feature Unigloves’ NitreGuard™ Technology. This relates to Nitrex gloves with cut level ratings of D to F, i.e. those that have achieved a straight blade cut resistance of 15N or greater. Such high performance gloves are ideal for sectors and work tasks where cut hazards are common and the severity of the risk is high.
But, as with any protective gloves, it is important not to over-specify. A glove with a high cut resistance rating does not necessarily mean it is the best one for the job. Depending on the work environment and the task, other features, such as dexterity, grip and water resistance, may be as, or even more, important. Ultimately, if they are to provide protection, gloves must actually be worn. They are less likely to be worn if the wrong ones have been selected for the task.
To help you ensure you choose the most suitable gloves for the tasks in your workplace, Unigloves can conduct a Hand & Arm Protection Survey (HAAPS). This is a personal service we provide to help companies determine the best glove solution for their needs and therefore improve safety, productivity and cost-efficiency.
You can arrange for one of our glove experts to visit your site and conduct a HAAPS on your work areas and activities that require hand protection.