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Get To Grips With Gloves

Published: 11th Mar 2013

When it comes to health and safety, one important consideration is protection against contact with hazardous materials. The skin damage that can be caused by chemicals can result in allergic reactions when toxic chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, while at other times, skin can be damaged by friction or from extremes of heat.

There is no single glove that will meet all needs, given the range of different workplace tasks, so selection must be made based on the types of materials handled and the work undertaken.

Why safety gloves are important

Manual dexterity is a key concern for many workers, but in all industrial and construction environments, a pair of safety gloves is needed.

Hand protection is important in the event of spills, punctures, abrasions, and falling objects. The other reason hand protection is needed – in the United States, at least – is OSHA regulations, increasingly observed by operators in the Middle East.

In the United States, if workplaces don't comply with various and relevant OSHA standards upon an inspection, OSHA will fine the company and give them a certain period to get up to standard.

If you're working with chemicals, what is some of the necessary safety equipment needed? On an equal level are safety gloves and glasses. Both of these items are needed to protect workers against chemical splashes and spills that may get into an eye or burn a hand.

Handling acid requires both hand and eye protection. Although eye wash stations in case of such chemical spills are required for this purpose, a worker should have the necessary protection first. For safety gloves, a plastic-like material, such as neoprene, nitrile, latex, PVC, or butyl, is often needed for chemical handling.

Safety gloves, of course, are needed for more than chemical handling. Leather and knitted work gloves are suitable for other industrial jobs, such as package handling or construction. Some workers may even need insulated safety gloves. In all cases, a workplace should specify the type of protection all employees will need for a safe environment.

When to use gloves

Gloves should be worn when handling:

• Corrosive materials

• Hazardous materials

• Materials with sharp or rough edges

• Toxic chemicals

• Very hot or very cold materials

It’s important to select the right glove for the task. By understanding the product and knowing how to use it, gloves can help eliminate most dangerous exposures.

Employer responsibilities

In addition to providing adequate gloves as necessary, employers must also provide the following:

• Copies of MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) at the workplace for each hazardous substance

• Appropriate gloves according to the MSDS

• Instruction/training in the use of gloves

Supervision of employees to ensure the gloves provided are used as required

• Adequate information about hazards and risks resulting in the use of gloves

• A record of the gloves identified and chosen for the task

• The manufacturer's instructions for the cleaning and storage of the gloves

Employee responsibilities

Employees have a responsibility to:

• Use as instructed the protective gloves provided by the employer

• Inspect the gloves before and after use to detect weaknesses or defects

• Wash and thoroughly dry hands before wearing gloves and immediately after removing gloves

• Ensure existing cuts or scratches are covered with a clean dry dressing prior to wearing gloves - keep the dressing dry at all times

• Report to their employer if damaged gloves are not readily replaceable

• Comply with manufacturer’s warnings

• Dispose of contaminated gloves properly

• Remove contaminated gloves prior to handling other items

Gloving materials

According to research conducted by Imperial College, London there are a number of gloving materials available. Each glove type has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Selection of a suitable glove

When selecting a glove for a particular task it’s important to consider the following:

• Type of hazard

• The task

The user in terms of size and fit, or state of health

• Workplace conditions

It is always helpful to write a full risk assessment, in which the type of glove required is specified, and with other control measures used included. These might be elements such as limiting contact with hazardous substances, and any specific requirements necessary to ensure the protection provided by a glove is maintained (e.g. specifying circumstances in which gloves should be changed, and any action necessary if a glove fails to prevent contact).

Identifying why a glove is necessary

There are two reasons why a glove might be necessary: to protect the hands against the product, or to protect the product against the hands.

Since we’re focusing on gloves as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the latter has little relevance. The kinds of hazards gloves guard against, however, most certainly has.

The main categories hazards fall into and against which gloves may protect are chemical, biological, physical and mechanical hazards.

1. Chemical hazards

It’s impossible to attain complete protection from all substances/chemicals. Gloves are susceptible to damage or failure by degradation or permeation by some chemicals, but in most instances, for protection against incidental contact, a nitrile glove will suffice.

2. Degradation

Essentially this is a glove’s material breakdown caused by contact with a chemical. Signs of degradation are usually visible in the form of swelling, loss of flexibility or tackiness.

3. Permeation

When a chemical can pass through an intact glove without damaging it, this is called permeation – a term also expressed as the breakthrough time.

If you are working with a chemical that is toxic or harmful on skin contact, or capable of absorption through the skin, consult your material safety data sheets to identify the chemicals used before selecting the most suitable type of glove.

4. Assessing glove performance

Most glove manufacturers provide chemical resistance charts on their websites giving test data on their gloves, giving you degradation and permeation performance information.

5. Breakthrough time

Gauging the speed a chemical permeates a glove is peculiar to each style of glove tested, although generally thinner gloves made from the same material will have a shorter breakthrough time.

For tasks where chemical contact is absolutely necessary, the breakthrough time is the maximum time you should wear the glove before discarding it. For tasks exceeding the breakthrough time, change your gloves part way through. If your gloves are stretched during use, be aware that this may cause breakthrough to occur more quickly, and remember that skin exposure will occur long before any perceptible feeling of wetness on the inner surface of the glove.

Selecting the right glove for the task

There are many considerations to weigh up when selecting a glove, not least the material being handled, and the task itself. You should consider the following elements:

1. Dexterity requirements

The thicker the glove material the greater the its resistance to chemicals or mechanical damage, although thick gloves can impair grip and dexterity, thereby compromising safety. For obvious reasons, thinner gloves do not give a high degree of protection, although they can give better user dexterity.

It’s always worth considering that you may require more than one type of glove for a single task.

2. Cuff length

The cuff of standard disposable gloves covers only a small area of the wrist, meaning it's possible there will be a gap between the sleeve of protective clothing and the top of a glove, especially if the work involves stretching forwards. For protection of the lower arm purchase extra length gloves, especially if you are handling irritant chemicals.

3. Grip

Smooth or textured surfaces will impact on grip, with a textured surface providing a more secure grip – particularly important when working in wet or oily conditions.

4. Abrasion, puncture, snag, tear, and cut-resistance

Since single use disposable gloves don’t guard against physical hazards, you should chose thicker, reusable gloves.

Other considerations

It’s also important to bear in mind the workplace conditions, as the environment where the work is carried out will have a bearing on many factors.

Your choice of glove may be affected by the following:

1. Temperature

This will impact on wearer comfort and health, since prolonged exposure to sweat inside a glove can cause rashes or dermatitis. Frequent glove changes where workers dry their hands before donning a fresh pair, or using a cotton liner inside the glove to absorb the sweat will help prevent this.

2. Wet work

Wear a longer cuff in wet conditions to reduce the risk of liquids getting into the glove, and ensure you use a textured surface to help grip.

3. Repetitive movements

Tasks that involve repetitive movements, e.g. pipetting, require a glove with good flexibility and elasticity. A good quality disposable nitrile should meet requirements.

Disposable or reusable?

Disposable gloves are thin, and allow the user to retain good touch sensitivity and dexterity, but they have poor chemical resistance. They are designed for single use only and should never be reused.

They are unsuitable for handling some hazardous chemicals, and provide little protection against physical hazards as they tear easily, or puncture if snagged.

Reusable gloves which offer greater protection than disposables against abrasion and other physical hazards, are less likely to tear in use. They are also resistant to chemical attack for longer, but they impede dexterity and touch sensitivity, and can damaged or permeated by many chemicals. To prolong their usefulness, follow the manufacturer’s guidance for glove care.

Reusable gloves tend to have a longer cuff length than a disposable glove, and so offer better protection against liquid slopping over the top.


Hands are clearly the body part with the highest degree of exposure day to day. It is important to raise awareness and talk about preventing hand injuries, regardless of how major or minor the hand injury may be.

Most workers are willing to wear gloves when hazards to hands are present in the workplace. Taking precautionary measures means they don’t need to worry about cutting their hands, and a good fitting, appropriate glove for the job will mean workers can grip materials better – and production will increase.

Be sure to do your research thoroughly and select the glove technology that provides the best defence for your workers, and will protect their hands no matter what activity they are engaged in.

Published: 11th Mar 2013 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Mohamed Abdel Salam