Better protection for hands and arms

Thomas Smith III uses the Defender Hand Guard to more safely operate a handsaw.
Photos courtesy of Austin Proctor.

It isn’t news that the tree care industry is one of the most hazardous fields in which to work, but it is noteworthy that efforts are ongoing to reduce the risks. Some industry professionals with hands-on knowledge of the day-to-day realities of tree care are actively involved in developing devices designed specifically for the industry.

Problems with limb protection

Brian Maxson, a Southeast safety and training manager for Bartlett Tree Experts (www.bartlett.com) in Raleigh, N.C., knows the business and its challenges inside and out. A 16-year Bartlett veteran, Maxson worked his way up through sales and foreman positions.

Brian Maxson was presented with a 2008 Tree Care Industry Association safety award for his role in developing the Defender Hand Guard.

As handsaws have been refined over the last 10 to 15 years, they have actually become more dangerous. With the newer, sharp blades being used, Maxson and others noticed that injuries were becoming more serious. When Bartlett adopted electronic accident reporting, it became easier to track and analyze data. About five years ago, Vice President of Safety Dave Marren became concerned about the large numbers of severe cuts on forearms, thumbs and fingers.

While specialty chaps and pants for chain saw protection are readily available, handsaw safety apparel is not well-represented in the marketplace. Sherrill Tree (www.sherrilltree.com) offers leather arm chaps that protect the hand and forearm. According to the Web site, the product provides “limited protection from handsaw cuts.” VanStarr Enterprises, LLC markets what it calls “the original arm chaps” (www.armchaps.com). The leather device slides onto the hand and forearm like a glove, with fingers and thumb free. A zipper secures the chap, which protects from cuts and other injuries.

Marren asked Maxson to investigate protective gear to help reduce serious injuries, and while he did locate and evaluate several products then on the market, Maxson was not pleased with available cloth and leather models.

Building Instinct Glove

About the same time of Maxson’s search for protective gear, Rick Smith was launching a new business in Southern California. He’d worked in the glove industry for years, primarily with products for automotive mechanics. His new venture, launched in 2006, was founded to design and develop hand protection products for other industries.

Working with concepts generated from within and outside the company, Instinct Glove (www.instinctgloves.com) tests new materials and designs to develop glove products for a variety of markets.

“We consider ourselves experts in designing hand protection,” says Smith, the company’s president. “However, we are by no means experts in all areas where hand protection is used. Therefore, we look to professionals in certain fields to help us gather the information needed to make the best product we can make for our customers.”

The process involves putting ideas on paper and then making multiple samples for testing purposes. Based on feedback from field testing, glove designs are revised until market ready. Instinct Glove’s Pro-Leather, Mako, Defender and Hammer HD series are among those used in the tree services industry.

“The tree service market has many moving parts when it comes to hand protection,” Smith adds. “Therefore, it is a challenge [and] difficult to make a glove that will work for all tasks while maintaining a high level of protection and dexterity. We must think outside the box and combine multiple ideas and designs to accommodate the different needs.”

Instinct Glove’s Defender Hand Guard is manufactured from several durable materials, including Kevlar.

Developing the Defender Hand Guard

When Smith made a sales call to Maxson, Maxson inquired about his need for forearm protection, and the two embarked on a collaboration that ultimately resulted in Instinct Glove’s Defender Hand Guard. Smith drew a sketch, which Maxson helped refine.

Over a period of many months, Smith tackled the task of determining the best method for manufacturing the guard and tested materials for suitability. Samples were made, which were modified twice based on Maxson’s feedback. Maxson says the final design was based upon an existing guard used for needle protection. Safeguarding the arm, back of hand and thumb were crucial, so a mitten was added. The final product also has a flap through which fingers can be extended if necessary, and the design accommodates climbing, as well. Glove use is optional, and the guard fits many different glove styles.

To achieve maximum safety and comfort, a range of materials were tested. The guard is composed of multiple materials, including Kevlar, and it is washable. Although durable, it should be replaced if it becomes worn or thin. Maxson personally tested the guard’s cut resistance and says even if a user tried to cut themselves, the Defender would still reduce the severity of the injury. He says one drawback of the product is that it remains a bit hot, and he would like to revise the design to make it more breathable. He adds that the single color of the guard can lead to sunburns beneath it.

“It’s hard to get people to wear personal protective equipment, so we tried to make it look as cool as possible to encourage use,” Maxson says. Bartlett advises, but does not require, its employees to wear the guard.

The guard may be used with power saws, as well.

Recognizing achievement in safety

Bartlett isn’t alone in its concern about handsaw injuries. A 2003 study by the TCIA Safety Committee reported that lacerations and contusions accounted for 35 percent of all reported injuries, exceeded only by sprains and strains, which represented 40 percent. Fortunately, the Defender Hand Guard has proven successful in reducing cuts from handsaw accidents. After Bartlett adopted the device in the spring of 2007, the number of cuts declined by 15 percent during the first year. In those branch offices that have used the guard most consistently, incidents were reduced by up to 75 percent.

Maxson was honored for that notable accomplishment with a 2008 TCIA Safety Award. He was quick to point out, however, that many people, including Marren and Smith, had vital roles in developing the device.

New tools for the future

Maxson has other ideas for new tree care safety products, which he may pursue in the future. He says the upfront costs present a challenge, as well as the size of the industry, which isn’t large enough to support research and development efforts.

“Products and techniques that protect young tree guys so they can work longer past age 40 are needed,” he says.

Instinct Glove, on the other hand, is currently developing several new products for arboriculture. The company is now sampling a reinforced palm leather glove for climbers and a tacky palm glove, which is anticipated to be released this summer.

Based in Greensboro, N.C., the author writes articles about horticulture, landscaping, agriculture and travel. She has been a contributor to Moose River Media publications for three years.