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Why is Glove Selection so Complex?

Published: 10th Nov 2010


Manufacturers have started to set up their product ranges in a way that customers can understand.

The first time I came into contact and thought about gloves was nearly 15 years ago. It’s still in my head like yesterday. Preparing for the interview and trying to think about who uses gloves other than people in the kitchen. Little did I know that I was about to enter the immense and often confusing world of gloves.

It’s a job that safety officers need to be applauded for, as they not only have to be specialists in gloves, they also have to be specialists in all other types of personal protective equipment. Is it possible for one person to have all the knowledge?

Before safety specialists get to the stage of understanding what gloves are available in the market they must have a thorough understanding of the user need. It’s not as obvious as it may seem.

Gloves are unique in the way that they are the only piece of PPE between the user and the job they do. We use our hands for nearly everything in life and having something that assists you in your job is paramount. It’s a work tool. As such everyone has an opinion about gloves be they qualified or not.

A good example of this was at a major automotive manufacturer in Sweden, which had been having numerous cut injuries which they naturally wanted to resolve. Resolve it for those working in this area. Resolve it to minimise lost production time. Resolve it to eliminate insurance payouts.

The glove being used had been introduced by someone working in the area concerned. When making an assessment the safety officer focused on cut resistant gloves given the amount of cut injuries. They would only look at a cut level 5 product.

A no nonsense, no risk spec yet this caused other issues.

The glove chosen was cumbersome and hindered people doing their jobs. Workers started to remove the glove for the more delicate operations, often forgetting to put them back on, thus exposing them to the risk. Even though they had gone from a cut level 4 to a cut level 5, accidents increased.

Specialists were called to get another perspective. Closer inspection and interviews identified that the prime issue was oil grip. Given the workers were unable to grip the parts, due to the oil, they slipped. This motion caused the glove, and subsequently the worker, to be cut.

The final glove chosen had excellent oil grip with a level 3 cut resistance. It was a win-win for all parties as the new glove was more comfortable (level 3 cut versus level 4), safer due to the grip feature and therefore practical in use. The company also saved on the lost time injuries and insurance payouts.

Purchasing also decreased the overall spend.

This example highlights the importance of defining the need. Understanding the needs ensures treatment of the cause rather than the effect. It’s all too easy to jump the gun in an attempt to solve the problem quickly. Actions such as this can, and usually do, create other issues.

It should be simple?

There are six relatively straightforward steps:

1. Understand the hazard(s) at the workstation/application. Remember needs versus effect. Critical 2. Evaluate the level of risk associated with the hazard. The same application can have a different risk level - experienced workers as more informed and adapted to the risk, versus new and/or temporary staff 3. Identify possible alternatives available from the various manufacturers and distributors in the market 4. Test the potential gloves to ensure they satisfy worker, safety and quality requirements 5. Ensure everyone understands the need for change and buys in. Buy-in with an ok glove can be better than no commitment with the ideal glove 6. Implement, monitor and manage the change process making corrective actions if needed

In parallel to the process there are stakeholders to be considered and brought along on the journey:

• Purchasing will view this as an opportunity to look at rationalising the number of suppliers and references. They need to be guided to focus on the overall yearly spend versus unit price, and sometimes educated as to why they need to buy more expensive items • Quality managers will need reassurance that the new gloves will not create quality problems. It has happened that new gloves leave traces on, for example, car panels, which prevents paint from being applied without blemishes. Additional costs are then incurred taking the car off line to be prepped and repainted. This could be avoided by ensuring gloves are silicone free • Production is always looking to run the production lines at an optimal speed. The more forward thinking companies invest in gloves with high levels of dexterity so workers can work quicker and the lines run faster

What seemed simple is starting to look complex. Why? Surely this is just a matching process. On one side there is a need and on the other side a product. Not really. Matching gloves to the need requires extensive research. Defining a short list takes weeks. How well does the safety profession do?

Today it is estimated 70% of people use the wrong glove.

Why do 7 out of 10 people use the wrong glove?

There are two main reasons. Firstly, needs for the application/user have to be mapped out. There are five general areas listed below:

• Comfort • Grip • Mechanical • Heat protection • Chemical and liquids

Combining these key criteria creates a staggering number of possible combinations to consider before looking at what gloves are available. Research can be conducted through the Internet, reviewing catalogues and visiting exhibitions. This can be exceedingly confusing. Why?

Globally there are 11 key glove suppliers who collectively offer just over 3,000 gloves. To look at it another way, that’s 272 gloves per manufacturer. It’s arguably too many gloves. These product ranges have been developed more from tactical battles between manufacturers, instead of developing product ranges around customer needs. Simply put, if one manufacturer develops and launches a product the other manufacturers follow suit with a similar product. It’s been a goal of the manufacturers to offer the most extensive product ranges in order to convince customers that they have a glove for each application.

Let’s add some more facts. Under the EU directive 89/686/EEC each and every glove has to, as a minimum, satisfy EN420 requirements before being tested to EN 388. Once tested for abrasion, cut, tear and puncture these test results have to be published. Four test results on 3,000 gloves makes 12,000 data points. In addition, each country will also have local manufacturers and numerous distributors in addition to the 11 key suppliers. Easily within a country there will be 20,000 data points from test results that need to be considered. There are of course other tests for heat (EN407), chemical (EN374), cold (EN511) and protection from ionising radiation and radioactive contamination (EN421), which will add to the 20,000 data points.

Of the five general areas that a safety officer has to consider, three are well covered by this 89/686/EEC directive: mechanical and heat protection, along with resistance to chemical and liquids. There are two key areas missing relating to grip and the most critical selection criteria, comfort. If it’s not comfortable then people will find many creative reasons why the glove is unsuitable.

Three thousand gloves plus local manufacturers/suppliers, 20,000 data points from EN test results and when defining the need, thousands of possible combinations. Is it reasonable to ask safety officers to have expert knowledge of thousands of products?

Coping strategies

It’s human nature. When people are faced with challenging situations they work out ways to cope. Generally safety officers focus on one of two approaches. The first is performance, where the emphasis behind the selection criteria is safety compliance. The second focuses attention on worker acceptance, delivered through comfort.

The benefit of the performance approach is that the products being selected are engineered and suitable against the risk. The downside is the selected product frequently fails to address comfort and grip requirements, leading to low worker acceptance

The second approach puts worker acceptance at the forefront to increase glove usage. Something is better than nothing, even if it isn’t perfect. However, many of these products provide insufficient levels of protection as emphasis is given to criteria such as dexterity, flexibility and sweat management.

Today, slightly more safety officers are inclined to follow the comfort approach which is driven by pressure from the workers using the gloves.

The merging of the two approaches to place the right glove in the right application represents a major opportunity to move the glove industry forward.

What has been the response from the industry to date?

1992 saw the introduction of the EN standards which have become part of the landscape today. While these standards have been a major step forward in the communication of performance characteristics, people rely on them too heavily. Frequently the specification for a product is the cut level. While important, we know that there are other criteria to be considered.

The numbers approach brought about by the introduction of the standards in 1992 has led many of the manufacturers to provide more technical and complex data sheets. While the information is correct it fails to talk to customers in a language they understand. What does a foam nitrile on a 13 gauge nylon liner really mean to a customer? It’s akin to the computer industry that talks about RAM, ROM, or giga bytes. Technically correct, yet leaving many customers perplexed.

The more forward thinking manufacturers have started to set up their product ranges in a way that customers understand. ATG, formerly John Ward Ceylon, have taken the ‘less is more’ approach, introducing what they call their proRange. They offer three product ranges: MaxiFlex, MaxiDry and MaxiCut, which cover 90% of the jobs done in general industry. Ansell have also simplified their product range, by splitting them into three categories: mechanical, chemical and liquid and product protection. Within their mechanical protection they offer light, medium and heavy weight gloves for different applications. More information can be found at and

Most glove manufacturers also have technical specialists who can provide full glove surveys, or specific problem assessments. Caution must be used as these surveys only recommend products from the supplier providing the service.

They are only available, generally, for selected large end-users. To obtain a general and informed overview would require multiple surveys to be conducted, time permitting.

While some of these surveys are conducted by people who are able to blend comfort and performance, there are many that will assess and recommend safety orientated or comfort driven products. They do give a good idea of what’s required and are generally free. It’s certainly a good area to explore what types of products could be relevant. Companies with well-known and accredited surveys are Ansell, Comasec-Marigold and KCL.

Where are the opportunities for improvement?

Three opportunities present themselves to move the industry forward:

• A holistic approach to finding gloves that combines mechanical requirements with comfort and grip • Measure the suitability of gloves for a given application • Independent recommendations covering all the key manufacturers within the industry

These may seem like unattainable opportunities for improvement, however other industries sectors have moved forward, so why not the PPE market?

The insurance industry in the UK serves as a good example where, over the last five years, an abundance of online search engines have been developed enabling people to find the best policy for them. These types of sites use clever algorithms to search through extensive databases to present only the policies relevant to the requirements given.

The first online independent web-based search service is now available for the gloves industry. It’s delivered by a company called Radar Gloves which offer this service free of charge at Once you have your list of suitable products you are then free to look for the best offer on the market.

It works via a simple interface where your requirements can be introduced before pressing ‘search for gloves’. Within seconds a list of suitable products is produced from all the key manufacturers. If you have a preference for one manufacturer you are able to search in more detail through the most relevant gloves. This innovative service takes away the complexity of choosing a glove, making product selection easier.


• Ansell - Sales contacts can be found at⟨=EN. • ATG - The co-ordinates for their country sales managers can be found at http:// • Best-Showa - They can be contacted at • Comasec-Marigold - Information is available per region which can be obtained at http:// • KCL - mainly orientated towards Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Co-ordinates can be found at http:// • MAPA - the corporate website can be found at • Radar Gloves - their free independent industry web-based search service can be found at , Email: info@radar11.coml • Sperian - a request for contact can be made at http://

Author Details:

David Staniforth has more than 15 years of experience in sales, business development, key account management and marketing at the operational and strategic levels. He is currently Partner at Noneuchi Consulting SA and Partner at Radar XI Ltd.

He began his career at Nestle and subsequently moved into product management for Ansell. His innovation and creativity led Ansell to develop the HyFlexTM concept, a major global brand. His final contribution at Ansell was establishing and running the end-user consulting division which Frost and Sullivan recognised with the European Customer Excellence award.

His intuitive sense of what customers want has led to the recent creation of what he says is the world’s first glove search engine: .

Radar Gloves is a free web-based service that delivers the most suitable products from all the key branded manufacturers within seconds.

David is active with the Charted Institute of Marketing (CIM) and is a fellow of the Asian Institute of Technology. He has lectured at Liverpool Business School, at CIM on overcoming global business challenges, and has spoken at numerous health and safety events. He has also written for many of the respected international health and safety press.

He combined work and study to earn his MBA with the Open University and has a first-class BA honours degree from Liverpool Business School.

David can be reached at and at +32 495 120 515.

Published: 10th Nov 2010 in Health and Safety International

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