If the Glove Fits: The Right Safety Glove for your Application

If the Glove Fits:
The Right Safety Glove for your Application

Published with permission from Synergist Magazine

From disposable gloves to reflective road crew gloves, safety gloves have distinct personalities and purposes in the workplace. Primarily, they serve to protect hands (and sometimes arms) from multiple sources of harm: caustic chemicals, voltage jolts, biohazards, scorching heat, freezing cold, and more.

According to a data source reviewed by OSHA, when workers in one study injured their hands, it was shown that 70% were not wearing gloves. In the remaining 30%, the gloves worn by the workers were damaged, inadequate, or the wrong type for the task and hazards encountered.¹

Many of these injuries, if not most, could be prevented with job-matched gloves. OSHA documents emphasize the importance of wearing personal protective equipment: “Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees' hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.”²

When discerning which safety glove is the best match for a particular workplace, consider the following:

What’s Your Type?

Chemical- and liquid-resistant gloves protect wearers from substances that penetrate the skin and potentially cause irritation, rashes, and burns. Usually made of neoprene, latex, nitrile, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or butyl, the glove material should be compatible with the chemical being handled. For more information on compatibility, see box below this article on Safety Glove Chemical Compatibility Database.

Disposable industrial or laboratory gloves limit contamination in cleanroom environments, microchip production, laboratories, and medical facilities. They are worn when handling blood, pathogens, germs, or other potentially hazardous biological samples. Because finger sensitivity and dexterity is important for these applications, these gloves are made of pliable materials such as polyethylene, latex, nitrile, or vinyl. Disposable gloves may also be used in food safety, technology, and preparation applications as well. Typically, these disposable safety gloves carry a label stating they are compliant with FDA regulations for food contact

Electrical safety gloves are generally rubber-insulated to protect electricians who are working with live wires and electrical charges. As an effective nonconductor, rubber offers voltage-resistance according to specified levels. Sometimes electrical workers wear leather gloves on top of the rubber-insulated gloves to further protect against abrasions and cuts.

Temperature-resistant gloves keep skin from experiencing the effects of extreme heat or cold. Those working outdoors in freezing conditions or indoors in freezers, cold storage units, or cryogenics need to protect their hands from frostbite. Welders, firefighters, and other workers toiling around open flames need glove materials that can withstand high levels of heat up to as high as 600ºF (315ºC). Similarly, extreme temperature gloves are knitted with materials that allow users to safely work with diffusion furnaces, hot/dry glassware, and liquid gas flasks.

Cut-resistant gloves safeguard wearers from snags, punctures, abrasions, and cuts and are most often found in industrial settings or animal handling applications. Cut-resistant gloves may be constructed of metal mesh or Kevlar®, perhaps with another material integrated in the fabric or added as coating to enhance the grip.

Leather work gloves crafted of cowhide, goatskin, horsehide, deerskin, or pigskin are often both tough yet pliable for farming and agricultural uses, carpentry, heavy machinery driving, and related applications.

Fingerless gloves for cycling, sailing, and road racing also can be useful in work settings where optimal dexterity is necessary without needing to protect fingers from moving parts, contamination, or other hazards.

Choose the Right Glove

Finger cots cover one or more fingers for protection when an entire glove is unnecessary. Made of nitrile, latex, vinyl, or rubber, they are used when handling Class II static-sensitive or ESD-sensitive devices with thresholds above 1000V.

What Style Fits Best?

Take into consideration safety glove features. These style options or characteristics may produce optimal work performance and enhance comfort, which cannot be overlooked when users repeat motions for several hours a day. Characteristics include:

  • Dexterity or the agility of movement within the glove for the fingers, wrist, and overall hand. Workers requiring a high level of manual dexterity should choose pliable gloves made of flexible materials
  • Tactile sensitivity which enables users to distinguish between items they are touching, holding, gripping, and grasping

  • Ergonomic design which may signify glove materials crafted of a weight and durability that provide better comfort, fit, and grip. Other specific features include winged thumbs to minimize hand fatigue and improve flexibility or keystone thumbs for maximum comfort

  • Texture or embossment for enhanced grip-ability

  • Weight as compatible for the task and environmental conditions

  • Breathability, enabling air to pass through for comfort and performance endurance

Other options that may be available for specific glove types:

  • Powder-free, particularly with latex materials, to reduce skin irritation
  • Aloe-coated to minimize chapping and cracking for those wearing gloves for long hours in a lab, cleanroom, or research facility

  • Sterilized by gamma irradiation to meet ISO standards for cleanroom use. Typically found in disposable gloves.

Gloves that extend beyond the wrist also provide cuff options:

  • Pinked cuff with a zig-zag appearance catches drips in cuff
  • Straight cuff protects skin from chemical run off

  • Rolled cuff allows hassle-free donning and removal

  • Knit wrist cuff absorbs perspiration and adds temperature protection with a snug fit

  • Gauntlet cuff, with a flared design and extended length, protects wrist and forearm

  • Extended length for extra arm protection for handling substances including solvents, caustics, and animal fat or in applications such as cryogenics

Making a Match

Of course, after an employer or worker chooses the right type of glove, with the necessary features to sustain long work hours and performance requirements, the size of the glove also matters. Poorly fitted gloves contribute to hand fatigue and can also leave the worker exposed to the very hazards the glove is designed to protect against.

Two methods can be used to determine an appropriate fit: Measure the hand circumference around the palm area with the fingers together and the hand relaxed. Or, use a hand gauge by placing the hand directly on the gauge and reading the size. For glove length, measure from the tip of the middle finger to where the cuff edge should be on the wrist or arm.

¹OSHA, “Section 2-II. Workplace Hazards Involved.” Personal Protective Equipment for General Industry.” Retrieved June 24, 2011 from www.OSHA.gov
²OSHA, “Hand Protection.” Part Number 1910.138(b), Occupational Safety and Health Standards, Personal Protective Equipment. Retrieved June 24, 2011 from www.OSHA.gov

Looking for Compatibility?
Try the Safety Glove Chemical Compatibility Database

Leveraging years of research on chemical compatibility, the Safety Glove Chemical Compatibility Database includes more than 190 chemicals. Once users select a chemical, a chart appears indicating glove material and overall rating for compatibility. Some materials may also include a degradation rating at 30 minutes, permeation breakthrough by minutes, and permeation ratings.

Variability in material thickness, chemical concentration, temperature, and length of exposure to chemicals will also affect the performance of the material with the chemical. Always test gloves first with the specified chemicals to be used. To select the appropriate glove protection, a hazards analysis and risk assessment should be performed, including identification of the chemicals and chemical hazards related to the task and work environment, determination of the potential for exposure and the type of exposure that is expected (i.e. splash, saturation, spray, immersion, etc.), and determination of the consequences related to exposure.

To check the database, go to ColeParmer.com/safetychemguide