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
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
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
• Exposed energized electrical wiring or
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
• 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
• 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
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
• 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
• 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
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
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
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
• Why hand protection is necessary;
• How the selected gloves will protect
• 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
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.