June 18, 2012

Note: This blog refers to standards set prior to 2016. For information on the updated standards, read our "Changes to Cut Protection Standards for Hand PPE" blog post.

When the time comes to select PPE for employees, there should be no question in mind that they have received the most appropriate level of protection for each unique application. In order to achieve this level of safety excellence it is important to have a complete understanding of the factors involved in this purchase decision. One primary and often poorly understood factor relates to various cut testing levels and grades, specifically the EN388 (CE) and ASTM (ISEA) standards. These acronyms represent the safety standards and testing methods for cut-resistance required for PPE within Europe (CE/ EN388) and the United States (ASTM/ ISEA).

When comparing the European testing methods with those of the United States, it is important to note that while both standards run on a scale from 1(low) to 5(high), the requirements to receive these grades vary dramatically. For this example, we will analyze the different grades for cut-resistance on both CE and ASTM scales.

The poor understanding of how these standards compare is the result of a variety of factors, including marketing efforts made by various PPE manufacturing and distribution companies. It is significantly easier to achieve a high score of 5 for those who use the European Standard (CE/ EN388) when promoting their products, compared to those who use the American Standards (ASTM/ISEA). Some companies will even neglect the fact that these standards operate on a numerical scale and simply brand their products as “CE Certified”. A product proclaimed as “CE Certified”, which attains a score of 1 on the CE scale, would in all honesty have no more cut resistance than a pair of blue jeans. Noting this dramatic difference, it is easy to understand how an individual could be confused by these rating systems when operating domestically, as oftentimes the domestic standard is simply ignored.

Below you will find a graphic which shows the dramatic differences between the CE/EN388 and the ISEA/ASTM testing methods. Note the difference between the European and American standards in terms of grams of cut resistance required for each cut level. Understanding these differences allows a safety manager to outfit his employees with the ideal protection for each and every application. Next time you are viewing a flashy brochure or are approached with the next set of the industry’s “safest gloves” make sure to inquire exactly what their definition of this means. This question could be all the difference between the next recorded injury and the next testimonial of an injury prevented.