Hazards Demand Proper Protection
Gloves are the first line of defense for many necessary tasks in our hazardous world.
- By Donald F. Groce
- Sep 15, 2008
With new hazards emerging weekly, ensuring
safer, more secure environments
is more challenging than ever before.
The importance of Personal Protective
Equipment (PPE) is constantly being brought to the
forefront by natural disasters, such as wildfires, flooding
in America’s heartland, tornados, and hurricanes; as well
as health concerns about pathogenic microorganisms,
such as MRSA and H5N1 virus (avian flu).
Protecting consumers’ and workers’ hands from
contaminants is a key aspect of any cleanup or response
effort. There are specific protective features to consider,
depending on the situation and materials encountered.
Naturally Occurring Disasters
It is evident that cleanup from flooding and other natural
disasters will be an ongoing issue. In the recent
flooding, many chemical companies along the Mississippi
were flooded. Debris from municipal sewage is always
a big concern when large areas are flooded, and
mold in flooded homes and businesses can become a
serious health problem. Any remediation effort requires
that workers wear proper protective masks,
gloves, and garments.
Often, the same type of gloves may be used for the
administration of medical relief, food services, remediation,
and reconstruction efforts. For example, disposable
natural rubber latex (NRL), nitrile, or even
vinyl gloves may be suitable for protecting all workers.
However, it is always a good idea to seek the most
qualified products with the highest level of protection
required for each task, whether it be food service, first
aid administration, rescue, recovery, demolition, or
For tasks such as these, the National Fire Protection
Association has assembled technical committees
from all aspects of emergency medical operations, as
well as hazardous materials incidents, to devise standards
designed to protect rescuers (both the first responder
and the first receiver). Gloves that are NFPA
1999 Certified for emergency medical services must
pass a series of applicable tests in an independent,
third-party certification laboratory. They must provide
a specific level of protection or performance level
for each key criterion, such as fit, dexterity, protection
from viral penetration, protein levels, rubber properties,
and puncture resistance.
As floodwaters recede, cleanup efforts change. The
clearing of debris requires a much different set of protective
gear: general purpose, heavy-duty work gloves
and cut-resistant gloves with excellent abrasion resistance
and a long usable life.
It is important to remember that no glove offers protection
from a moving or serrated blade. However, for
conditions that may result from the long use of items
such as chainsaws, where repetitive motion injuries may
occur, a vibration-dampening glove can lessen the impact
of such injuries. Manufacturers also offer lightly
coated, thinner, better-fitting gloves that provide abrasion
resistance and cut resistance for demanding jobs,
such as construction.
Thinner gloves allow the worker to do many tasks
for which he previously took the gloves off to gain dexterity.
They encourage workers to wear them longer and
for more tasks so that injuries are reduced and, in many
MRSA: Today’s Threatening Super-Bug
Natural disasters are one threat. New super-bugs are
another. Although bird flu has not mutated in a form
contagious in human beings, a mutated form of the
common bacterium Staph is spreading throughout the
United States: Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus
Years of prescribing and over-prescribing penicillin-based
antibiotics have resulted in mutation of Staph
into a virulent form that resists common antibiotics
and causes severe, sometimes disfiguring, skin infections
that can spread to other body systems and may
cause fatal infections. The U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) recently estimated
MRSA will cause more deaths than AIDS this year.One
of the problems with an organism such as MRSA is that
it is endemic. Common Staph lives on the skin or in the noses of 25 to 30 percent of the population
and exists in people who are not sick.
Although not generally categorized as a
pandemic, MRSA is worldwide, and the
problem is growing. Reporting is not
mandatory, and public health figures show
that it is drastically under-reported. Public
health agencies agree the criteria for MRSA
reporting are too stringent. Many hospitals
now screen patients for MRSA upon admittance.
The number of cases they are seeing
is cause for major concern.
Hospital-acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA)
has been a problem in hospitals and nursing
homes for years. Community-acquired
MRSA has now surfaced and is in the headlines
every day as whole school systems shut
down to disinfect and decontaminate when
Who is at risk? Clusters of MRSA outbreaks
have been reported among athletes,
military recruits, children, and certain ethnic
groups. Law enforcement personnel
who deal with homeless people, illegal
aliens, and prison inmates are at risk of acquiring
MRSA. Many professional sports
teams have had problems with MRSA,
which has sidelined players.
What does MRSA look like? MRSA infections
are commonly mistaken for spider
bites or a boil or pimple. MRSA spreads
and can be disfiguring; stopping it can require
surgery or even amputation. Systemic
involvement can result in death.
MRSA can penetrate through a scrape,
pimple, or sore. Most MRSA is spread on
hands to different surfaces.
How do we prevent MRSA infection?
Proper hand washing is the most important
step in preventing transmission and infection
by MRSA. You should never share personal
items, such as towels and razors, or
touch anyone’s bandages or wounds. Towels
and gym clothes should be washed in hot
water and dried in hot dryers, not air dried.
Surfaces should be wiped down with alcohol-
based disinfectants that are known to kill
MRSA. Hand sanitizers that are alcohol-based
and proven to kill MRSA should be
used to prevent transmission and infection.
Gloves that provide protection from
bloodborne pathogens are an integral part of
a protection ensemble for contact with
MRSA, whether treating patients or cleaning
up facilities. They should not, however, be
the sole item of PPE chosen for such virulent
pathogens. An item such as a disposable
glove will protect the wearer from exposure
of the hands to MRSA bacteria. However,
MRSA can contaminate the outer surface of
any glove and be transmitted to other surfaces.
The wearer can wipe the glove surface
with hand sanitizers that kill MRSA to prevent
transmission. It is important to be certain
that the hand sanitizer has been proven
to kill MRSA and will not degrade the glove
or compromise its barrier efficacy.
Does anything treat MRSA? This Super-
Bug is very difficult to kill and is spreading.
Some antibiotics, such as Vancomycin, are
effective for treating MRSA, but common
penicillin-based antibiotics are not effective.
Persons who suspect they have MRSA
should contact their doctors as soon as
possible. Earlier diagnosis is the key to successful
First Defense with PPE
Writing professional standards designed to
protect workers and communities from exposure
to chemical and biological agents is
a time-consuming and labor-intensive
process. It is comforting to know that certain
standards-writing organizations have
had the foresight to address many of these
PPE issues before they arise. NFPA 1999 is
an example. NFPA 1999 even covers protection
from new hazards, such as MRSA
and avian influenza hazards.
NFPA 1999 Standard on Protective
Clothing for Emergency Medical Operations
originally was written to address protection
of first responders, such as firefighters and
emergency medical personnel, from exposure
to bloodborne pathogens. All PPE
covered in the standard was required to
provide the minimal level of protection
from bloodborne pathogens; this included
gloves, garments, faceshields or masks, eye
protection, and mouthpieces or other ventilation
In order to comply with NFPA 1999,
protective items including gloves must pass
ASTM F1671, Standard Test Method for Resistance
of Materials Used in Protective
Clothing to Penetration by Blood-Borne
Pathogens Using Phi-X174 Bacteriophage
Penetration as a Test System. (At only 27
nanometers in size and in fact much smaller
than anthrax, MRSA bacteria, SARS,
HIV, H5N1 avian influenza, and even Hepatitis
B Virus, Bacteriophage Phi-X174 is
the model viral particle utilized for testing
whether bloodborne pathogens will penetrate
PPE because of its size and the fact that
it is a nonpathogenic viral entity.)
PPE in the Era of Nanotechnology
An interesting aspect of using the ASTM
F1671 Bacteriophage Phi-X174 test model is
that passing it also means passing the test for
penetration of a nanoparticle. With the billion-
dollar nanotechnology market developing
quickly worldwide and nanotechnology
being the basis for many 21st-century technological
advances, there has been much
concern about these microscopic-sized particles
and the proper PPE for both the inhalation
route and the dermal route.
Because the Bacteriophage Phi-X174
model virus is considered a nanoparticle,
NFPA 1999 Certified products provide protection
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.