What do I need to consider to choose the best cold weather gloves?

Q:

What do I need to consider to choose the best cold weather gloves?

A:

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 110,000 lost time injuries every year and over 1,000,000 workers sent to the emergency room because of hand injuries. Thirty percent of these injuries are the direct result of choosing improper gloves for the specific task being undertaken, or not wearing gloves at all.

In cold weather conditions, the risk of frostbite has to be added to a workplace hazard assessment. Proper gloves not only prevent frostbite but also provide protection from other objective hazards present in the workplace (learn more in 10 Cold Weather Workplace Safety Tips).

OSHA's Stance on Cold Weather Gloves

As per OSHA's Standard 29 CFR 1910.132, the employer is not obliged to provide equipment that protects the employee only from the weather. As such, the employer does not have to provide winter gloves.

However, cold is not usually a stand-alone hazard for employees. Employers might wish to consider winter gloves for their employees that also provide protection from work-related hazards such as cuts, vibrations, and impact.

How to Choose Cold Weather Gloves

Gloves, like any other article of PPE, offer less protection than administrative or engineering controls, so the best way to protect your hands from cold is to stay away from it or get indoors frequently to warm up.

When working in cold conditions, the general rule for layering clothing in cold weather applies to gloves as well. A system with an over-glove and liner is better than a thicker, stand-alone glove since it traps more heat between layers (read about how to Manage Cold Stress With the Proper Winter PPE).

Before deciding on a glove, ask a few questions to ensure which is the best glove for the job.

  • How cold is it? Many gloves come with a cold rating. Choose the one that is appropriate for the temperature of your work environment. The weather is unpredictable, so if you are unsure, pick the warmer one. Down is gram for gram a better insulator than synthetic.
  • Do you work with your hands in the snow? A glove with a long cuff and drawstring will ensure no snow gets inside your glove or sleeve.
  • Do you need dexterity? If you do, a glove is the only choice. If you don't, a mitt will keep your hands warmer since your fingers stay closer together and there are fewer seams and surfaces to lose heat through.
  • Is your job high intensity? Is it likely your hands will sweat? In this case, you want a glove (or glove liner) that wicks the sweat away and keeps your hand dry. Wool is better than cotton, but synthetic materials wick best.
  • Is it likely you will come in contact with water? Get a waterproof glove or over-glove. Consider also insulation: down is warmer when dry, but has no insulating properties when wet. Synthetic insulation, like Thinsulate, retains most of its insulating properties even when wet and dries faster.
  • Working with solvents, oils, etc? There are gloves with specific oil/solvent resistant coatings.
  • Flammable work environment? There are fire retardant gloves as well as fire retardant insulation. Look for the FR logo.
  • What are the other hazards present in your work environment? Winter gloves, like regular work gloves, come in a wide variety of types: cut resistant, impact resistant, anti-vibration, etc.

Conclusion

There is no "best glove" for all cold weather jobs. Even at equal temperatures, when presented with different work conditions and hazards, we have to choose the glove that offers not only the best thermal comfort but also protection from the other possible hazards. Of course, personal preference and perception will also always play a role. Take all of the above into consideration to make the best decision for your cold weather gloves.

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Written by Karoly Ban Matei
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Karoly has worked at a senior level (both as an employee and a contractor) for organizations in the construction and manufacturing industries. He has a passion for developing and improving health and safety programs.

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