Take Charge of Your Chemical-Resistant Glove Program

A challenging factor is potential risk from several different chemicals, each of which requires a different glove material for maximum protection.

Keeping workers safe in an environment where toxic chemicals are in use can be a challenge. Not only do you need to know what personal protective equipment is required, but also you need to be sure that workers use it correctly and replace it when it degrades.

Chemical-resistant hand protection can be particularly difficult for employers and their safety officers because each job has its own requirements. In the pool service industry, for example, pool technicians need general-purpose gloves for activities such as pool vacuuming but require chemical-resistant gloves when adding chemicals to balance pools. On the industrial floor, workers need specific guidance as to which chemical resistant glove is required for each chemical handled. There is simply no one single glove that covers all the contingencies. The situation is compounded by the fact that one worker may face risk from several different chemicals, each of which requires a different glove material for maximum protection.

Selecting the Right Chemical-Resistant Glove
General guidelines, such as the following, outline the suitability of the most common chemical-resistant glove materials for protection in various situations:

  • Butyl: high permeation resistance to gases and water vapors, as well as highly corrosive acids, Ketones, and esters
  • Natural Rubber Latex: resistant against animal fats, caustics, acids, salts, alcohols, and detergents
  • Neoprene: durable resistance against a wide range of chemicals, as well as solvents, oils, especially acids, and caustics and greases
  • Nitrile: durable resistance against a wide range of chemicals, including oils, especially petrochemicals, fuels, and most acids
  • PVC: durable resistance and barrier protection against some chemicals, especially petrochemicals, oils, and grease
  • Viton: highest chemical resistance to aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, and xylene

Using American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard permeation and degradation tests, glove manufacturers regularly test swatches of gloves made of these materials in various chemicals. Gloves are rated for particular chemicals based on those tests. Glove packaging contains useful information on the recommended uses for the glove and the results of testing.

However, with literally thousands of different chemical-resistant gloves in the marketplace, finding the right glove is challenging. Fortunately, industrial glove manufacturers have developed online tools and on-site programs to help safety officers and employers make sound decisions in choosing chemical-resistant gloves. In most cases, all the safety officer needs to do is ask for help.

ChemRest.com and More
One of the most highly respected of the online tools is Showa Best Gloveg's online glove directory, www.chemrest.com. Here, applications, chemicals, and chemical-resistant gloves manufactured by the company are matched up for the best solution.

This resource provides chemical permeation testing information for several hundred individual chemicals. It enables employers to truly find the right glove for the job. For example, looking up a common dry cleaning chemical, perchloroethylene, on ChemRest.com, you will find several recommended gloves along with the results of their rating by ASTM 739 Heavy Exposure Permeation standards. There is flexibility for the employer or safety officer to specify things such as time of exposure to find the most choices for the specific need. In addition, searches can be done either by chemical name or CAS number.

On-Site Assessments
In addition, leading manufacturers of chemical-resistant gloves have designated teams that will come to the manufacturing site and help the employer determine the right hand protection program for each worker category. Some of the most effective programs offered by manufacturers involve a three-step process:

Step 1: The Hand/Arm Safety Assessment. This assessment covers the gamut of end user applications with a site survey of every application for which the manufacturer has a current chemical-resistant hand protection product. The goal of this assessment is to help manufacturers protect workers and make the best use of all available hand protection options for their specific applications. It also involves looking at each specific area of the plant operation and assessing needs specific to that area:

  • What gloves are currently being used?
  • What are the costs associated with hand protection?
  • What is the injury rate and the cost of these injuries to the employer and employee in lost workdays, efficiency, etc?
  • What can be done to improve safety, efficiency, and overall cost (short, mid, and long term)?

Step 2: On-Site Technical Training. Manufacturers often develop training programs for plant managers, site supervisors, shift managers, and, in some cases, even individual employee teams. Time and again, it is the comfort level of the user that dictates the success of a hand protection program. Making certain that each worker understands the glove he or she is to use, how it is supposed to fit, and the tasks for which it is mandatory. Workers also need to understand the risk they face every time they fail to wear the proper chemical-resistant glove.

Step 3: Awareness Support. Once a chemical-resistant glove program is ready for launch, creating awareness is key. As a best practice for the implementation of a successful safety program, manufacturers will prepare individual glove boards for posting in breakrooms or other gathering spots throughout the plant, warehouse, or company. These "glove boards" are actually posters showing the glove to be used and its associated applications (years ago, the glove board was quite often just that –- a board with tacked gloves and signage with usage next to it).

Manufacturers will customize these boards to the needs of the end user or company. The end result is a customized catalog of the gloves being used in the plant. In some instances the boards are done plant-wide; in other cases, with specialized needs within different plant areas, different glove boards are posted wherever different applications warrant them.

Educating Workers on Requirements
It used to be the workers who manually submerged component parts into hazardous chemicals. With machines taking over this dirty work, it's not uncommon for workers to develop a more casual attitude toward glove wearing. However, any skin contact, whether from a splash or from residual chemicals, can result in chemical burns, and that possibility remains in almost every work environment where chemicals are used. At the same time, many jobs require that workers pour chemicals into containers, apply chemicals manually, mix chemicals, or transport chemicals and deal with accidental leakage on a daily basis.

Employers can take the lead in training employees from glove manufacturers' programs. Even without having a manufacturer step in with a formal assessment, safety officers can evaluate the hand injury risk that each job category poses and then create a simple set of guidelines for workers. These guidelines must be clear and authoritative. For example, most guidelines now use the word "must" rather than the less demanding "should" when spelling out chemical-resistant glove wearing protocols. These protocols need to be presented at a safety meeting, given in writing to each worker, and posted in breakrooms or other areas where workers congregate. Workers need to understand what gloves to wear, what their responsibility is in caring for these gloves, and where to go to get replacement gloves.

Retiring Expended Gloves
Because every glove material has its limitations, it is important for workers to be aware of signs of permeation, penetration, degradation, and contamination:

  • Permeation occurs when substances pass through the intact material of the glove at the molecular level. Permeation is also known as the silent killer.
  • Penetration occurs when a substance passes through a seam or damaged part of the glove, such as a pinhole or tear.
  • Degradation occurs when a substance damages the material of the glove, making it less resistant. The end result is the physical breakdown of the polymer.
  • Contamination occurs when the inside of the glove becomes contaminated throughout the wrist opening and gauntlet, most likely due to poor donning/doffing practices.
  • Often, the ongoing effectiveness of a given glove can be determined by simple sensory tests:

    • Does the material feel like it did originally, or has it become brittle?
    • Does the material smell like the chemical it is supposed to be protecting against, even after thorough rinsing or washing?
    • Is the exterior of the glove intact?

    If the glove doesn'’t measure up, it's time to replace it.

    There is a lot more to managing a chemical-resistant glove program than simply providing workers with a few gloves. However, safety managers need no longer rely solely on their internal resources. More than ever before, PPE manufacturers are prepared to step in with online selection tools and on-site assessments, training, and support materials. These help to ensure a safety program not only reduces the risk of hand and arm injuries due to chemicals but also addresses industrial concerns about efficiency, cost savings, and PPE that multitasks in the everyday work environment.

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

David Shutt coordinates Showa Best Glove's new product development in general purpose, disposable, and chemical-resistant glove lines among research and development, field sales and marketing teams, as well as distributor and end-user customers. He has more than 25 years' experience in the industry. The company is based in Menlo, Ga.; visit www.showabestglove.com for information.

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