July 8, 2013

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.

Cut Score Comparison

As simple as the industry may try to make it sound, there remains an unsettling level of confusion in the cut-resistant glove market. With multiple 1-to-5 rating scales, a variety of acceptable or certified standards, differing testing methods, as well as a slew of acronyms associated with the testing, safety managers may find themselves overwhelmed when sifting through potential cut-resistant PPE.

But there is one thing that is met with general agreement in the hand safety industry: not all cut-resistant gloves are created equal. With this in mind, it becomes vitally important that those making the PPE purchase decisions be fully informed on the cut-resistant products available to them.

Here is what you need to know about cut testing standards, and how they apply to your safety program:

The United States uses ISEA/ANSI Accepted Standards, while Europe uses the EN388 Standard and CE Certification

However, many gloves sold in North America will indicate both testing results. Keep in mind that the ISEA (International Safety Equipment Association)/ANSI (American National Standards Institute) is a committee of manufacturers and suppliers of safety equipment, as well as a group of standardization societies, which have established a standardized test for cut-resistant materials. On the other hand, the European Union uses the EN388 standard to test against mechanical properties. Once products are tested a CE (Conformité Européenne) certification is granted, verifying a product has properly been tested, and the test results properly reported. Many manufacturers in North America will seek CE compliance, as it is required in Europe and other parts of the world.

ANSI/ISEA105 Accepts the ASTM F1790 Cut Test Standard, while the EN388 Standard Accepts the Coup and ISO Test

While both parties report cut-resistance on a numerical scale from Level 1 to Level 5, there are differences in these scales. A glove with ISEA/ANSI Level 3 cut resistance may not necessarily test at Level 3 on the CE method. The reason for this difference in the rating scale is the difference in accepted testing methods.

  • The ASTM F1790 measures the weight in grams needed to cut through a material when applied to a razor blade, tested over a distance. Thus, each cut level from 1 to 5 denotes a specific range of weight, in ascending order.
  • The EN388 Coup testing method is constructed much differently: it counts the rotations needed for a circular blade to cut through a material while moving laterally across the material. The count is indexed by use of a "control" fabric, such as standard cotton. The indexed value is then converted to a simple cut level, ranging from Level 1 to Level 5.
  • However, the EN388 Coup test is not recommended for materials with high levels of cut resistance, as these materials can easily dull the blade and skew the results. For Cut Levels of 4 and 5, an alternate test is proposed: the ISO 13997. Similar to the ASTM F1790, it measures the force needed to cut a material by way of a straight blade being moved across said material. The result is measured in newtons, which is directly translated to cut-resistance.

The ASTM F1790-97 Varies Slightly from the ASTM F1790-05

Prior to 2004, a cut length of 25mm was required when performing the test, but the specifications have since been updated to only require 20mm. The update was made, along with a few other changes, so that both the Tomodynamometer (TDM) and Cut Protection Performance Tester (CPPT) testing machines would be compatible. Be certain when comparing data that the same test is used for each product in the comparison.

North American Manufacturers and Distributors Are Not Required to Certify Cut Resistance

As the CE is the only certification-requiring body, vendors of safety gloves in North America are able to sell gloves without ever testing them for cut resistance. If they elect to test them for cut resistance, they are able to use any method they choose.

Furthermore, the CE certification does not require the ISO 13997 for highly cut resistant materials, but only recommends it. As such, a manufacturer of PPE in North America could feasibly run the EN388 Coup test on a cut resistant material, and due to the nature of the test, return dramatically inaccurate results that portray the material to be far more resistant to cuts than it actually is.

It is extremely important to gather information both about the material used in PPE, as well as the methods by which it is tested, before continuing with a purchase decision.

The Employer is Ultimately Responsible for Providing PPE that Meets Employees' Needs

Per OSHA regulations, the final burden of responsibility concerning cut resistance falls on the employer. Though testing regulations and certifications are a viable starting point for a purchase decision process, they are never to be taken as a validation of the inherent protection offered to an employee.

  • Safety directors are encouraged to work with other industry professionals in analyzing the cut hazards in a given task, creating a practical testing method to verify the protection offered by PPE, and testing many different kinds of PPE in real-life situations.
  • Cut resistance does not always mean cut safety! Many products that resist blades will still subject employees to variably-shaped sharp hazards, as well as lacerations that begin with a puncture. Testing a material against worksite hazards is vital to the success of a PPE program.

Cut-Resistant PPE Manufacturers and Suppliers Can Provide Further Understanding of Cut Testing

Ask them questions, and seek thorough explanations for the methods that they have selected to test their products.

More information on each of the tests listed can be found on these websites:

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