The truth about cut resistant glove testing and the real world
30 October 2015
We are at the moment very aware of the shadow which the VW testing affair casts over the validity of claims based on standards testing in general - and so in considering very cheap cut resistant gloves we may well be led to wonder “but how could these supposedly hi-tec gloves be so cheap, are they real or are they fake?”
Here at Aquila® we believe the truth lies somewhere in-between; let us consider that as a consumable item cut resistant gloves sit in a very price competitive market place, so it may not be surprising that some manufacturers feel under financial pressure to maximise test results by setting up tests in laboratory conditions optimised to produce the desired results; arguably to the letter of interpreted text but often, in consequence, not fully reflective of real world conditions.
Take the example of a low end cut level 3 glove; to achieve CE cut level 3, the tested glove has to score an index of 5 and above (customers can easily see this from the CE test report provided by the manufacturer), if the gloves are made of good quality cut yarn, the cut index should reach an index of 6 and above, whilst the cheap one may only go as high as 4.9 or border line 5. The cheap cut gloves have 3 fundamental problems:
a) Cheap gloves often only have cut resistant yarn on the palm since manufacturers know that this is where the test sample is taken. This practice leaves the fingers and wrist relatively unprotected and vulnerable in real world use. Manufacturers of quality gloves on the other hand use their cut resistant cloth over 100% of the glove including the cuff. Clearly this has a cost to the manufacturer but results in genuine protection of the whole hand and wrist.
b) In order to further cut cost, these gloves do not use any real cut resistant yarn in their construction; instead a so-called strengthened polyester yarn is used. However, the in-service cut resistance level and the longevity of the glove is substantially compromised, even if it passes the test. Low cost, low performance materials and cheap production processes certainly yield a cheap product, but without significant technological innovation (such as Aquila® Alkimos® spiral wound yarn) the result is invariably a poor outcome.
c) A light gauge of fibre glass is often used to ensure the cut resistance level on test but the glass fibres frequently then cause skin irritation to the wearer, so they cannot be worn for a practical period such as the duration of a single work shift.
In the worst cases these cheap options only appear good on paper (i.e. on the test report) with selected samples and a favourable set up, while the actual long term production rarely reaches cut level 3; in which case they would definitely not pass the even more stringent ASTM ANSI or ISO cut tests, while leaving workers poorly protected with the cost benefit accrued to manufacturer profits.
On considering the standards themselves we can look for example at the circular knife EN 388 specified tests and see why they are so contentious, and possibly open to interpretive results. Criticisms centre around unpredictability of wear on the knife throughout the duration of the test, and the role of abrasion in the materials used in the process, coupled with the method used to attempt to compensate for these inbuilt problems, which makes the EN 388 test unsuitable for gloves including hard material such as glass fibre. This makes it possible to select a material mix and construction which will perform adequately on test but not in the work environment. It also obscures the possibility of deliberate manipulation of samples and/or test results which we have seen can occur even in the most apparently upright of companies, such as the recent case of Volkswagen. Unscrupulous manufacturers of cheap gloves may well take advantage of these loop-holes to test inappropriately, e.g. by limiting cut resistant material to the palms, while achieving apparently high number test results.
The ASTM ANSI test – similar to the International ISO test - uses a new, sharp blade on each operation and so leaves less to chance, even so we still see possible problems of variability. So we can see that claims based on EN 388 can be suspect – especially in the case of cheap gloves – if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Coupled to this we believe that assessment of the test ranges themselves is subjectively so wide as to bring their applicability into question.
Clearly then the difference between a “poor” cut level 5 and a “good” cut level 5 can be substantial - the difference in fact between a cheap glove and a good quality one. A good quality glove will protect the whole hand and maintain its protective level for a useful working life, dependent on usage and application – sometimes a very long working life through many washes. A cheap one although perhaps two thirds the cost may last only a few days and the user hopefully will not need to find out how good its protection really is since doing so may well lead to significant injury.
This is one arena where you really do get what you pay for and poor worker safety is the cost of making a bad choice.
Testing as a process is excellent in principle and we applaud the test authorities for their efforts in this difficult area – we would only suggest more appropriate tests and stricter procedures with real world relevance. Consider for example that none of these tests deal with many of the real world hazards found by PPE glove users worldwide in industries which involve operations such as handling of wire or rough wood, or metal swarf and other sharp and pointed items – not even with a typical craft or other knife as it might really be used.
The Aquila® range of cut resistant gloves are made with unique Alkimos® yarn, which is a genuine Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene yarn, over the whole glove. Due to the way the yarns are woven and mixed, all Aquila® cut gloves can be washed for multiple times – up to 14 times and have been shown to still pass their cut level test.
This makes perfect economic sense for those who are both safety and cost conscious. All Aquila® cut gloves are tested constantly, in fact tests are run on every batch delivered, to make sure the gloves are consistently reaching the right cut level, we are all only too aware of the lessons now being highlighted in the press regarding testing of diesel vehicles , so it may be no surprise to consider that we believe it is a common practice in the glove industries that the cut resistant gloves are not properly tested or that special samples are provided for the test – even that the test procedures themselves are often not up-to-date.
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