The Right Gloves are Out There

Your hand safety program should fit employees like a glove.

Hands and fingers are always close to the action, so they need appropriate protection. How do employees know which hand protection they should use? They don’t, unless they’re aware of the hazard(s) and wear the necessary PPE.

It’s simple enough, right? Maybe not, as illustrated by the following case study:

A work crew was removing sheet metal flashing that covered the insulation around a tank. When one worker pulled on the metal, he received a 1/2-inch-long cut on a fingertip.

As outlined at a pre-job meeting, the workers were told to wear leather gloves for this task. The work was delayed, however, and a refresher meeting was not held before the work started. The injured worker had picked up a pair of gloves from the tool room but left them in a change room before entering the job site. None of his co-workers reminded him about the lack of PPE.

OSHA regulations (29 CFR 1910.132) require that employers assess their workplaces to determine whether hazards are present, or are likely to be present, and then select and require employees to use the appropriate hand protection. In this case, knowing more than the regulation was necessary to protect employees. Effective communication of the hazard(s) and work rules also was needed.

What exactly does an employer need to do?

1. Assess the hazards.
Hazard assessment is an important and complex endeavor that needs to be understood before the employer provides employees with any type of hand protection. According to OSHA’s hand protection standard (1910.138), employers are to select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when their hands are exposed to hazards. This includes hazards from skin absorption of harmful substances, severe cuts or lacerations, severe abrasions, punctures, chemical burns, thermal burns, and harmful temperature extremes.

Therefore, you must consider the potential for hands to come into contact with:

• Tools or materials that might scrape, bruise, or cut;

• Sources of extreme heat or cold;

• Irritating chemicals;

• Blood or other potentially infectious materials; and

• Exposed energized electrical wiring or components.

2. Select the right type of glove.
There is no one type of glove that will protect employees’ hands from all hazards. As a result, employers must base the selection of the appropriate hand protection on the potential hazard(s) identified, as well as on an evaluation of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, and duration of use. This selection often can be daunting for employers, considering there are many standard and specialty gloves made by hundreds of glove manufacturers.

To understand the complex nature of glove selection, first consider the following glove terms:

• Gauge: The gauge is the thickness of the material. The thicker the glove material is, the less “feel” and flexibility it affords. The thickness is also determined by a glove’s lining.

• Unlined: Unlined gloves are thinner and give the user more sensitivity. These gloves can contain a powder to make them easier to put on and take off.

• Lined: Various materials can be used to make the inside of gloves more comfortable. The thicker the lining, the less the sensitivity or “feel.” Some of the common lined gloves are:

1.Knit-lined, usually cotton or a synthetic material that absorbs perspiration and can give added temperature protection

2. Jersey-lined, which gives best cushioning effect and is most comfortable

3. Flock-lined, with a cotton lining that makes for easily on/off; inexpensive

• Cuffs: Straight cuffs allow for a tight fit around the wrist, protecting against chemicals’ or other substances’ entering the glove. Gauntlet cuffs are longer and offer more protection for the wrist. They are not tight-fitting and allow for easy on/off.

• Length: The longer the glove, the more protection it offers. The trade-off is that the longer the glove, the higher the cost and the more unwieldy it is to use.

It’s also important to determine the type of glove features that are needed, including:

• Palm grip type (rough, smooth);

• Sewn or molded;

• Curved or straight finger design;

• Insulated (for protection against heat or cold);

• Wrist, elbow, or shoulder length;

• Cuff or no cuff;

• Coating (for chemical resistance); and

• Cut resistance.

Types of gloves include:

• Durable work gloves: Made of leather, heavy canvas, metal mesh, or synthetic fibers, they provide protection against cuts, abrasions, punctures, burns, and sustained heat or cold. They are not chemical resistant or electrically insulating, and their temperature- resistant properties are reduced if they become wet.

• Fabric or coated fabric gloves:Made of cotton or other fabric to provide varying degrees of protection, they can be coated with plastic to improve the gloves’ grip. They can protect against dirt, slivers, chafing, and abrasion. These gloves do not provide sufficient protection to be used with very rough, sharp, hot, or cold materials.

• Chemical-resistant gloves: Made of rubber, synthetic rubber,or plastic, they protect workers from chemical burns, irritation, and dermatitis caused by contact with solvents, acids, oils, greases, and other chemicals. The use of rubber gloves also reduces the risk of exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials.No one type of glove material resists all chemicals. Glove manufacturers provide chemical resistance charts to help employers select the most appropriate chemical-resistant gloves. Specific types of chemical-resistant gloves include:

1. Butyl rubber gloves. These gloves are highly impermeable to gases, and they also resist oxidation and ozone. In addition, they resist abrasion and remain flexible at low temperatures. They protect against a variety of chemicals, including acetic acid, sulfuric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and ketones.

2. Natural latex or rubber gloves. These gloves protect workers’ hands from most water solutions of dilute acids, alkalis, and salts. They are frequently used to protect against contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIMs). Latex gloves have caused allergic reactions in some individuals.Hypoallergenic gloves, glove liners, and powderless gloves are possible alternatives for individuals who are allergic to latex gloves.

3. Neoprene gloves. These gloves have good pliability, finger dexterity, high density, and tear resistance. They protect against gasoline, alcohols, hydrochloric acid, and alkalis.

4.Nitrile rubber gloves. These gloves provide protection from chlorinated solvents, such as trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene. Although intended for jobs requiring dexterity and sensitivity, nitrile gloves resist abrasions, punctures, snags, and tears.

• Electrically-insulating gloves: These are used by qualified employees who need to work around exposed energized parts. Their use is outlined in OSHA’s standard on electrical protective equipment (1910.137). Proper cleaning and storage procedures must be followed.Generally, durable protector gloves are worn over the electrically insulating gloves to help keep them from being damaged. Insulating gloves must be properly inspected for damage before each day’s use and immediately after any incident that could have caused damage.

Once the correct type of glove has been selected, each employee needs to have gloves that fit properly. Gloves that are too tight can cause fatigue and numbness. Ones that are too loose can fall off or get caught in equipment.

Determine the proper size by using a cloth measuring tape. Measure the circumference of the employee’s hand by encompassing the widest point of the palm.

If the measurement is 8 inches, then that worker needs a size eight glove. Keep in mind that actual sizes vary by manufacturer and even by different styles from the same manufacturer.

3. Train employees.
An employer cannot simply hand out protective gloves to employees and let them start working.OSHA’s PPE standard includes detailed training requirements. Employees must know:

• Why hand protection is necessary;

• How the selected gloves will protect them;

• The limitations of the gloves;

• When they need to wear the gloves;

• How to properly put on, take off, adjust, and wear the gloves; and

• The proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the gloves. Employees must demonstrate that they understand the PPE training they’ve received.

4. Understand glove limitations.
Gloves are the most commonly used type of PPE.And while gloves provide protection to fingers, hands, and sometimes wrists and forearms, they do have certain limitations. For example, gloves that provide protection from chemical exposure often break down over time and allow the chemical to seep through or may insulate the hands from hot objects only if the gloves are kept dry. Dexterity also may be limited with the use of some gloves.

Employers need to be aware of these limitations as they assess the hazard(s) of the job being performed, select the appropriate and adequate hand protection, and effectively train employees on how to properly use and maintain that hand protection.

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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