Over a third of workplace hand injuries involve cuts. This may sound like bad news, but it’s actually a great opportunity because hand injuries are the #1 preventable workplace injury.
Often hand injuries occur because workers are wearing the wrong hand protection (or worse, no hand protection!) Unfortunately, the countless safety glove options on the market can make it difficult to choose the right protection. How do you know which gloves offer the level of cut resistance your workers need without inhibiting their performance and comfort?
To clear the confusion, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about cut-resistant gloves in one place where you will learn:
- The underlying forces that cause cuts
- How these forces are counteracted with engineered materials
- Common cut-resistant materials, including their advantages and limitations
- Global standards and tests used to verify the cut resistance level of gloves
- Limitations of, and misconceptions about, cut-resistant gloves
To understand cut resistance, we first need to understand the underlying forces that cause a cut.
What exactly causes a cut?
There are two main forces that cause a cut or tear:
- Push (downward force) – This force is generated by a sharp object pushing down on a material – whether that is glove material or skin doesn’t matter. This downward force creates tension in the material, leading it to tear.
- Pull (friction force) – This force is created by the slicing motion of a blade across a material. As the blade moves across, the friction created pulls away (cuts) the fibers of the material.
So, how are these forces counteracted?
Counterforces that minimize the effects of push and pull
There are four main forces that can counter the push and pull forces that contribute to cut injuries.
- Lubrication (slickness)
To counteract downward force, we engineer materials to have enhanced strength and hardness. When the strength of a material’s fiber is significant enough, it resists stretching and snapping. When a fiber’s hardness is great enough, it resists compression (squishing of the material), reducing cut risk.
To counteract friction force (the slicing motion), we engineer materials to provide lubrication and rolling action. This allows the sharp objects like blades to travel more easily across the material, reducing the friction that causes cuts.
Understanding the science behind these forces helps glove manufacturers engineer cut-resistant materials for safety gloves. Industry standards also apply these same forces to test and measure the effectiveness of cut-resistant gloves and assign them protection levels, which we’ll discuss later in this article.
When looking for cut-resistant gloves, you need to consider the material used to manufacture these gloves as well as their benefits and limitations. This helps determine which materials are best suited to protect hands in your work environment.
Below are common primary materials used to manufacture cut-resistant gloves.
Additional materials are added to the primary materials to enhance cut protection, dexterity, comfort, and durability. These added materials can include one or more of those listed in the following chart.
Metal can also be used as the only material in a glove. Gloves made with metal are called chainmail gloves and are made of metal rings linked together in a pattern to form mesh. This glove style is primarily used in food processing for deboning meat.
The key to manufacturing highly cut-resistant gloves that are comfortable is engineered yarn. Engineered yarns incorporate the benefits of two or more fibers, instead of solely relying on one strong fiber. High-strength fibers like HPPE and para-aramid are enhanced with steel, fiberglass, or a combination of materials listed above to make them even stronger. Combining materials within the yarn also allows gloves to maintain more comfort and dexterity without sacrificing cut protection.
To help understand this better, let’s imagine we were making a sandwich instead of a glove. If you take two buns and add meat, you have a basic sandwich—maybe not the most delicious one. This is equivalent to a glove with a shell made only of HPPE or para-aramid. On their own, these fibers offer a low level of cut protection; they are functional but not ideal for tasks that require cut protection beyond ANSI Cut Level A3. Now let’s add some cheese and greens to complement the existing flavors of the sandwich. These are your added materials like fiberglass, steel or metal wire, or a combination of other materials, which will further enhance the cut protection, comfort, and durability of the material. This is what makes engineered yarn ideal for cut-resistant gloves.
However, just like your sandwich can fall apart if you overload it, similarly, the right balance needs to be maintained when blending materials. Read on to learn about factors we consider when creating the ideal balance of protection and other features.
Now let’s expand on our understanding of materials further and see:
- How gauge impacts the use of cut-resistant gloves
- How palm coating influences cut resistance
Glove gauge and its impact on the use of cut-resistant gloves
Gauge is defined as the number of stitches included in each inch of yarn. As the number of stitches increase, so does the gauge. Note: Although gauge refers to the yarn, it’s common to hear it called glove gauge. This has the same meaning and is a shorthand way of referring to the thickness or thinness of a glove.
Below is a quick overview of glove gauges, including their thickness and dexterity level, and how they impact a glove’s feel and performance in tasks that involve cut hazards.
Different gauges are recommended for different tasks and hazards. In the past, a lower gauge, coarser yarn, was often the preferred choice to make cut-resistant gloves. However, with engineered yarns, glove manufacturers can produce thinner, more comfortable gloves with high dexterity that also provide high cut resistance.
No one gauge is better than the other. It depends on the work task and hazards for which they’re needed.
For instance, if comparing a 7-gauge glove to a 21-gauge glove, the 7 gauge will be less dexterous, because it’s less flexible and has a lower tactile feel. If fine motor skill is needed, this is an issue. But, if the task requires heavy lifting that includes sharp and abrasive objects, someone might prefer a thicker glove as it offers increased cushioning and durability.
To learn more about the differences between glove gauges, check out our Glove 101 section on glove gauges that discusses the topic in detail.
How palm coating influences cut resistance
Does palm coating increase cut resistance? The short answer is no!
A slightly longer explanation is that the changes are nominal, so palm coating shouldn’t be viewed as extra protection. However, palm coatings do provide improved grip that can mean fewer slips with sharp objects, and thus potentially less opportunities for cuts. Palm coating also helps extend the life of the shell. As such, palm coating should be considered when choosing a cut-resistant glove.
Check out our Glove 101 section on palm coating for more information about types of palm coatings and the work conditions they’re best suited to.
You know your workers need cut protection, but how do you decide which level of cut protection to buy?
To solve this problem, industry standards were established that refer to specific test methods to assign protection levels for safety gloves, including cut resistance. These standards were introduced to create a common language for safety managers, distributors, and manufacturers to define protection levels and be held accountable for their claims.
There are three industry standards governing cut protection:
- In North America, the ANSI/ISEA 105 North American Standard
- In Europe, the EN388 European Standard (CE)
- In UK, UK Standard (UKCA)—the newest standard developed when the UK split from the EU
All of these standards specify certain tests in which cut-resistant gloves are measured by the force it takes for a blade to cut through the material.
The ANSI/ISEA Standard established the ASTM F2992-15 test method for measuring cut resistance. The standard identifies nine cut levels (A1-A9), ranging from 200 grams to 6000+ grams of cut resistance.
When looking for the protection level on gloves, the ANSI cut level is displayed inside a badge resembling a shield.
Testing Method: A Tomodynamometer Machine (TDM-100) is used to conduct the cut-resistant test on gloves. Materials are tested under three varied weights with a straight-edge blade that moves across five times in the same direction at approximately the length of 20mm. After each cut, a new blade is used, and the weight (in grams) is added until a cut is achieved. The test is repeated a total of three times and the average of the three tests gives the final rating in grams, ranging from 200 grams to 6000+ grams of cut resistance. This determines a cut score between A1-A9.
Below, we breakdown some general references around cut hazards as it relates to each level.
Generally, low cut-resistance levels (A1-A3) provide protection against minor nuisance cut hazards found in lower-risk environments, such as in a warehouse where workers are handling boxes. Cut-resistance levels of A4 and above are better suited for applications where cut risks are much higher, like handling glass sheets, metal press work, or heavy assembly. However, ultimately, the task and risk level of the hazard determines the cut protection level required for the job.
The EN388 Standard, used to evaluate mechanical ratings for hand protection (abrasion, cut, tear, and puncture) uses two different methods for testing cut resistance in gloves:
- The Coup Test
- ISO 13997 methods (more commonly known as the TDM-100 Test)
The TDM-100 was added in 2016 and relates closely to the ANSI/ISEA 105 Standard test. Gloves manufactured more recently only perform the TDM-100 testing due to improved accuracy in determining the cut-resistance level of a glove.
Coup Test: In this test, test material is placed beneath a rotating circular blade that moves back and forth under a fixed weight until cut-through occurs. A cut score is recorded on a scale of 1-5. The problem with this testing method is that the blade dulls if used on high cut-resistant material, which results in inaccurate scores.
If no cut-through occurs after 60 rotations, the second test is used and required: the ISO 13997. The result is measured in Newtons.
ISO 13997: The ISO 13997 uses the TDM-100 test method which uses a straight razor blade under variable weight to measure cut resistance, similar to the ASTM F2992-15. Results are measured in Newtons, ranging from 2-30 Newtons, and are graded from A-F. Cut resistance for materials tested using this method will only have an “X” placed under the Coup Test score marking to indicate “not tested” on the EN388 Standard shield. An example of this can be seen in the image below.
Note: There are no differences in the testing methods and ranking levels for the EU and the UK Standards. However, PPE (and other goods) sold in the UK are now mandated to have UKCA marking (UK Conformity Assessed) instead of CE marking (Conformitè Europëenne-European Conformity) which are used for PPE (and other goods) sold in EU countries.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how cut-resistant gloves work, let’s review some common misconceptions about cut resistance.
Misconception 1: Cut-resistant gloves are cut-proof
There is no such thing as cut-proof gloves. For any pair of gloves that need to be wearable, the materials used require malleable properties that allow gloves to move, flex, be pulled on and off, etc.—properties that cannot be considered impenetrable. So, if you take a pair of scissors to these gloves, they will cut!
Even a chainmail glove made of metal will eventually cut if subjected to long exposure to a blade—and enough determination.
Cut-resistant gloves are, however, designed to reduce the likelihood of being cut, though cut injuries can still occur even when wearing gloves. In such cases, the severity of the cut can be drastically reduced.
Misconception 2: Leather is cut-resistant
Due to its high durability, many think leather is cut-resistant. Leather is simply cured skin, and skin isn’t cut resistant. On its own, it doesn’t offer significant cut protection. Leather gloves that offer cut protection have a liner with cut-resistant properties added to them.
Misconception 3: Only the palm is cut resistant
This misconception arises because the testing standards require only the palm to be tested for cut resistance. However, while there is no test requirement for the rest of the glove, those that offer 360o of cut resistance will have the same cut-resistant material throughout the glove and should be made clear by the manufacturer. Be sure to ask your supplier if the glove you’re considering has 360o cut protection and which materials it is made from (see our list of cut-resistant materials above).
In addition to the cut-specific consideration that we’ve discussed above, there are other factors to consider when choosing cut-resistant gloves to ensure wearability, cost-effectiveness, comfort, and other factors that determine successful adoption.
Can cut-resistant gloves be washed? How do you choose glove sizes that fit workers, so they’ll be comfortable wearing their cut-resistant gloves all day?
To answer these questions, and more, we’ve created a comprehensive guide that takes a closer look at the anatomy of work gloves in our Glove 101. Our guide expands on each glove component and its function, including glove materials, patterns, gauges, coating, linings, gloves by hazards, sizing, care, laundering, and more.