What should I look for when I need a glove with some grip?
When I worked for one summer as a glass installer, I got a crash course in the importance of grip. When you and a partner have to carry glass panels that weigh up to 200 pounds, losing your grip is a major issue! In those cases, having the right pair of gloves made all the difference.
Protection is paramount when selecting work gloves, but function is still a must. The design of a glove can’t make holding tools and materials too difficult, but still has to offer reasonable protection for the worker’s hands. Safety gloves shouldn't have to be removed to allow for dexterity and control, but they also can't be so slight and minimal that they offer no real protection. A good gripping surface is a great way to improve dexterity and tactile feedback without compromising protection.
Many varieties of protective work gloves have a ventral gripping surface (palm and inner fingers) that is dipped in a chemical-resistant, soft, flexible and durable substance to produce a tacky layer. Typically, these are made of materials such as latex, nitrile, neoprene, or polyurethane. The remainder of the glove may be made of a cut-resistant textile (e.g. Kevlar), nylon, cotton, or a series of layers depending on the other demands of the work.
The material of the gripping surface makes a difference to the level of performance and protection. Latex, for example, is soft and flexible, provides for decent grip but doesn’t match nitrile’s tackiness or resistance to chemicals or heat. Some grip may be sacrificed if there is a greater need for protection, such as with handling sharp material like swarf, metal chip, or puncturing sharps.
Depending on the intended application, there are various finish types for grip surfaces with different performance characteristics. Smooth, microfinish, crinkle, rough/sandy or microfoam textures are used on cut and abrasion-resistant gloves for working with tools, sharps, and chemicals. Diamond or honeycomb mold grips are typically used for less hazardous applications such as cleaning.
One of the main factors informing the choice of grip texture would be whether the conditions of use are wet or dry. Some surfaces, such as crinkle, have the ability to channel away moisture and grip even when wet. The high surface area contact of a totally smooth gripping surface may perform well in dry conditions, but they’d be a poor selection for outdoor work or any application in which water or other liquids are routinely used. Rough or sandy nitrile finishes offer slightly less channeling, but a high-friction surface ideal for certain kinds of material handling - particularly oily materials. Sandy nitrile also offers high abrasion resistance, so it could be a good choice in settings where material that is both oily and sharp is handled.
A glove with an intermittent, screened pattern may not offer much protection from moisture or chemicals, but may be more breathable and comfortable when working in hot environments. It will have a pattern of shapes on the palm that will allow for decent grip, but doesn’t create an impermeable surface. A glove like this might be selected for relatively low hand-hazard work that still requires grip, such as moving or warehouse work.
Several factors have to be weighed against one another to figure out the right glove for the job. As with all PPE selection, it starts with a proper hazard assessment. Any damage or excessive wear will compromise a glove’s grip and protection, so don’t hold on to them too long.
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