What should I look for when buying chemical gloves?

Q:

What should I look for when buying chemical gloves?

A:

There are several things to consider when purchasing quality personal protective equipment (PPE). Manufacturers of quality products are always glad to address considerations and explain the differences and benefits of all materials used in the making of their products. They can also offer resources to consult for compliance with all federal, state, and local requirements once you've chosen the right product for the job (learn the basics in 6 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Guidelines Every Employee Should Know).

For chemical gloves, specifically, you want the best protection against exposure to chemicals, and you should pay attention to three main factors: protection, performance, and comfort.

Protection

The first thing to look for is appropriate protection for the specific job. Chemical PPE and materials are evaluated and rated on three characteristics:

  1. Penetration: how much chemical moves through the product material initially
  2. Permeation: how much chemical seeps through over time
  3. Degradation: how fast the material wears out after exposure to a chemical

PPE used in and around chemicals can wear out quickly, so work gloves should not be reused. When gloves are used around a hazardous chemical, they should be disposed of in a way that prevents other workers from also being exposed to the chemicals in the trash bin.

Performance

Some gloves provide adequate protection when worn, but if a worker can't move their fingers very well with them on, the protection aspect has less perceived value. If workers experience discomfort wearing the gloves, such as hot and sweaty hands or loss of dexterity, they may question the purpose and intended use of the gloves they have been provided with.

Thankfully, today’s workers do not have to choose between comfort, performance or protection. Through scientific breakthroughs and high-tech materials, as well as creative approaches, glove manufacturers are finding new and better ways to address the many needs of the worker without compromising protection from potentially dangerous chemicals (read about the Top 4 Pathways for Chemical Exposure).

Significant improvements in moisture management, either with the glove itself or in combination with a liner, add comfort as well as the ability to move and perform work without discomfort. Specific gloves can enhance certain functions, such as improving grip, and there are also options to layer different gloves to achieve the perfect fit for the job. For example, wearing a cut-protection glove under a chemical glove, or a thermal management glove under or over a chemical glove, addresses the PPE challenge of protection and comfort. Some gloves are almost like “super gloves,” providing many types of protection within one product, such as the PPE designed to protect against hazardous chemical exposure while also providing abrasion and puncture protection.

Comfort

If gloves designed to protect against chemical exposure are uncomfortable, the worker will be tempted to remove the PPE or ignore other safety requirements in order to complete important tasks.

In the case of using a protective layer inside a glove, there are sometimes problems that arise when the layer inside is latex. It is estimated that 8-12 percent of healthcare workers are latex sensitive with reactions ranging from irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact sensitivity, to immediate, possibly life-threatening, sensitivity. Many workers who are not traditional healthcare workers, such as housekeepers, laundry workers, or gardeners, can also develop a latex allergy.

According to NIOSH, workers exposed to latex gloves and other products containing natural rubber latex may develop allergic reactions such as skin rashes, hives, nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms, asthma, and (rarely) shock. In cases like this, employers will need to consider additional choices, such as synthetic, low protein, and powder-free gloves. Powder-free gloves may reduce systemic allergic responses to latex.

There are plenty of choices out there, but as with any kind of safety issue, the key is to stay informed and educate yourself on new developments in the marketplace. The leading manufacturers always offer qualified and professional advice in staying compliant and keeping workers safe. Combining the information from manufacturers with the needs of your workers and the inherent hazards of the specific job will help you make an informed decision for the best type of chemical glove for your needs.

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