Safety Fits Like a Glove

There’s a lot going on with our hands. With 27 bones (including the 8 wrist bones), a complex network of nerves, muscles, tendons, and an outer skin layer that’s only 2-3 mm. thick, protecting them while working becomes critical if we hope to avoid injury and lost time.

Statistics show that injuries to the hand, wrist and fingers (23% of total workplace injuries) are second only to back injuries (24.7%). Hand protection is so important, that it is required by many Occupational Health & Safety associations to be a part of employee safety and operating standards across a variety of industries.

Gone are the days where we had a choice or either cotton or leather gloves for protection from every hazard that the workplace had to offer. Today’s hand protection offering includes choices to meet all the requirements of the workplace, including chemical resistance, cut resistance, protection from contaminants, thermal protection, improved grip, oil absorption, high visibility and water proofing. Workers demand gloves that provide multiple degrees of protection in addition to providing better performance. With hundreds of glove styles available, it is essential to understand what to look for to get the best results.

Fit and Dexterity

No matter what glove type is needed, they must fit and provide the dexterity necessary for the job. Otherwise, workers are more likely to discard them in favour of productivity. To determine proper fit, measure the circumference of the hand around the palm. The number of inches will help determine the correct size:

  • < 7 inches = Extra Small
  • 7.5 inches = Small
  • 8 inches = Medium
  • 9 inches = Large
  • 10 inches = Extra Large
  • > 10.5 inches = Extra Extra Large

In general, disposable thin-gauge gloves made from materials such as Natural Rubber Latex (NRL), Nitrile, Neoprene or even plastic PVC offer the greatest dexterity and tactile sensitivity. As gloves get thicker, dexterity is traded off in order to gain durability and/or protection.

Durability, Coatings & Chemical Resistance

Because of their durability and low cost, general-use cotton and leather gloves are often used where multiple tasks are performed and where abrasive materials or heavy objects are handled. With polymer-coating, these types of gloves have been shown to last 10 to 20 times longer. The longest-wearing gloves have the thickest coatings, but the result is a loss of dexterity. The trick is to get the best of both elements for the job. This is where palm, flat-dipped or three-quarter dip glove models can work best. Note though, that to be completely chemical or liquid proof versus just chemical and liquid resistant, the gloves must be fully coated. Fully coated gloves can come either with or without a lining.

Latex rubber (NRL) is a low-tech glove material that is waterproof, but it will blister and delaminate when in contact with petroleum-based products. Because they’re inexpensive, they can be disposable if necessary and applications include construction, general assembly, material handling and landscaping. Not a good choice for the automotive industry.

Nitrile rubber (NBR) resists grease, oil and certain (not all) petroleum-based products, and is water resistant or waterproof (if fully coated). This is a good choice for tasks that require a high degree of dexterity and sensitivity and where a grip is important, such as handling small oily or wet parts. It also protects well against automotive, dry and laboratory chemicals.

Polyurethane gloves offer polymer strength for added abrasion and puncture resistance, plus extended wear. With a softer feel and limited chemical protection, they work well for electronic assembly, inspection and quality control environments.

Both PVC and neoprene offer excellent chemical-resistant properties. PVC gloves are commonly used in the petrochemical industry. Neoprene gloves provide excellent chemical resistance to a broad range of hazardous chemicals, including acids, alcohols, oils and inks. Although neoprene gloves can offer good grip, they generally are thicker and heavier.

Cut Resistance

Cut-resistant gloves are designed to protect hands from direct contact with sharp edges such as metal, glass and other materials. Cut-resistance is a function of a glove’s material composition, plus its thickness or weight. Cut protection can be improved by increasing material weight, or by using high-performance materials such as Spectra, Dyneema, Kevlar, metal mesh or other specially-designed fabrics. This type of glove typically comes with a cut-resistance classification number.

Other Glove Types

Anti-vibration gloves are used for protection for specialized tasks such as operating chainsaws, grinders, nail guns, sanders and any machinery that produces high levels of vibration.

Electric hazard gloves are rated based on the amount of voltage that a worker might be exposed to if shocked by an electrical current.

Heat-resistant gloves are an entity unto themselves. There are heat-resistant gloves that are flame resistant, high heat resistant, convection heat resistant or all three.

High-visibility gloves are available in safety orange or lime colors and come in day or nighttime versions.

Disposable gloves. Disposable gloves, often used in food processing or assembly as well as a multitude of other industries, are available in latex rubber, nitrile, polyethylene, PVC and vinyl.

Hand protection is good business, and it makes sense for all companies to assess risk within their workplaces, create standards around hand safety and provide proper training and equipment to their employees. Additionally, since there are so many glove types available and so many workplace variables to consider, be sure to consult a professional about the right types for your particular environment.

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