When you think about it, our hands are tools. But they're more important than any of the ones you'll find at the hardware store, on your work bench, or in the garage. As your most important tool, they need protection on the job. This is especially so in applications involving chemicals, which can result in painful, irritating burns and rashes, leading to unfortunate emergency room visits.

Are you and your employees using the right hand protection for the chemicals you’re working with every day?

The First Step: Safety Analysis

Choosing the right glove for your application is a critical step to decreasing accidents and improving overall workplace safety. To help make the right choice, supervisors and safety managers should collect and analyze the following important information:

  • Get a complete and accurate description of the tasks where gloves are required
  • Identify all hazards that may require hand protection, including chemical hazards and physical hazards like cuts, burns, and impacts
  • Determine how much flexibility and touch sensitivity you need for the job – this may limit the thickness of the glove material you can use
  • Determine whether or not the gloves need a non-slip grip
  • Assess your need for durability and resistance to deterioration or other damage due to contact with chemicals, sharp objects, rough surfaces, and more (this may involve reviewing technical information about products, such as permeation rate, breakthrough time, penetration, and degradation)
  • Figure out what type of contact you'll be experiencing – occasional contact, splashes, or continuous immersion?
  • Consider how long the exposure to the hazard lasts
  • Determine the potential effects of skin exposure, such as irritation or corrosion, as well as the system-wide health effects of chemical exposure
  • Identify what training will be required (training should include identifying hazards, glove selection, limitations of safety gloves, fit, what could happen when a glove fails, preventing contamination with safe glove removal, and when to decontaminate or dispose of gloves)
  • Find out what size(s) of gloves you'll need to fit you and your co-workers

Choosing the Right Glove Materials

Once you gather all the information you need, you’ll be able to choose an appropriate type of glove. Here are some of the glove materials that will keep you and your workers' hands protected from chemical hazards:

  • Butyl – A synthetic rubber material that offers the highest permeation resistance to gas and water vapors. It is especially suited for use with esters and ketones.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl) – This material protects against strong acides and strong bases. Many PVC and vinyl gloves also offer protection against cuts and abrasions.
  • Neoprene – Protects against common oxidizing acids (nitric and sulfuric) and many other chemicals.
  • NitrileA synthetic rubber material that resists a wide range of chemicals, as well as punctures, cuts, snags, and abrasions.
  • Sealed-Film (Laminate) – One of the most chemical-resistant materials available. Sealed-film gloves protect against almost anything. This material is an excellent choice for hazmat applications where the chemical present may be unknown. These gloves, however, do not provide a close fit, a good grip, or strong physical properties. Because laminate gloves are quite thin, they are commonly worn as liners under other gloves that offer the additional properties workers may require.

Make the Right Choice

Choosing the proper gloves is a vital step in protecting against the chemical hazards you and your co-workers face every day. Taking the time to make the best choice has its benefits. Reducing on-the-job accidents and reinforcing safety awareness lowers downtime and workers’ compensation costs, while improving morale for everyone.

With so many gloves on the market, including introductions of innovative new gloves and materials, it’s easier than ever for safety personnel to select the best protection for employees.