A glove that is too thick or has material that is too inflexible for a specific task will decrease finger dexterity and increase hand fatigue. (SW Safety Solutions Inc. photo)

Why Quality Manufacturing Matters

Get a grip on safety with new single-use glove technologies.

Innovation is happening all around us. From the factory floor to the shop itself, we are seeing new technologies every day that are designed to make our work lives easier and safer.

Take single-use gloves, for example. Going well beyond mere barrier protection, today's innovative single-use gloves can be engineered with properties designed not only to aid in accident prevention, but to provide a better work experience, as well. How different can one single-use glove really be from another? Let's ask the same question of safety glasses. In certain instances, a standard pair may do the job, but now consider the actual job environment and task at hand: Will you be working outside, do you need small or larger frames, do you need anti-fog lenses, and should they be polarized?

Properties found in single-use gloves now offer similar answers to these complex types of job-related questions. And hand safety is no small aspect of personal protective equipment.

Well-documented labor statistics show that 60 percent of injuries on the job are related to the hands. They truly are our most versatile tool, but also the part of us most susceptible to injury. OSHA's hand protection (PPE) standard mandates that employers select, and require employees to use, appropriate hand protection when employees' hands are exposed to the following hazards:

  • skin absorption of harmful substances
  • severe cuts or lacerations
  • severe abrasions or punctures
  • chemical burns or thermal burns
  • harmful temperature extremes

Most people associate these protection criteria with heavier-duty gloves, such as leather, synthetic leather, knit, or cotton versions. So can innovations that better protect someone really be found is something as simple as a single-use glove? Turns out, there's a lot more that goes into this type of hand protection than most people realize.

Single-use glove technologies are being developed that provide specialized protection to workers across several industries. A "one size fits all" mentality just isn't the norm any more. Specific job tasks and hazards are being taken into consideration, and single-use glove manufacturers are adapting glove attributes to meet particular performance criteria and application safety requirements.

From size and fit to durability and grip, this class of gloves is designed to give wearers better control, better protection, and a better work experience.

Protection in the Palm of Your Hand
An often-overlooked aspect of a single-use glove is that the grip provided plays an important role in safety and protection. Most gloves made with a textured grip surface include only a partial pattern that doesn't extend across the whole hand to the fingers—but gloves manufactured with a grip pattern that covers the fingers and palm provide increased dexterity and a secure hold on objects that lesser gloves can't match. This only makes sense, because it's your fingers that give you the dexterity; they should be offering the same degree of hold as the rest of your hand.

Two key areas where this is important is for those who work with small parts, such as in the semiconductor industry, and people who handle liquids that can make surfaces slick, such as in manufacturing or chemical applications. Instead of fumbling with small pieces, wearers can keep components secure in their hands due to the raised texture in the fingers of the glove.

And if a job includes working with slippery liquids or surfaces, a well-designed, full pattern texture across the glove provides a more secure grip with less fatigue because it's easier for the wearer to secure or hold objects. This extra grip across a larger surface of the glove comes in handy, giving the wearer better control and handling, which reduces drops and breakage.

Keeping Sight of What’s Important
Some jobs are dirtier than others; that's just a fact and an important one to take into consideration. High-visibility gloves that maintain their bright hue when exposed to grease, dirt, and oil, for example, keep workers aware of where their fingers are in relation to the job they are performing. Especially when you're talking about running heavy machinery, this can mean the difference between safe operation and a serious injury.

Even with the increasing number of innovations in single-use gloves, barrier protection remains the first and foremost critical aspect in hand safety. Ensuring a strong layer of defense from the start gives wearers a better sense of confidence in the equipment they are using to guard themselves from harm.

A large degree of glove tears occur when the glove is being put on, before the wearer can even begin to do his or her job. The reason this happens is because most lesser-quality manufacturing processes actually produce a glove that has a much thinner layer at the cuff than across the palm. In fact, the specifications noted by a manufacturer for a glove's thickness typically apply to the finger thickness, not the entire glove, so it can be risky to assume that the specific palm or cuff thickness of a single-use (SU) glove is the same mil designation as the finger.

What good is a cheaper glove if it's torn before the job even begins?

SU gloves are made using a dipping process, so the finger will be a bit thicker than the palm. So if a finger is 6 mil but the palm is only 4 mil, that equates to a 33 percent reduction across the area offering the most protection. But quality manufacturing provides a more controlled environment that minimizes the gradient range, or degree of thicknesses, across the various areas of the glove, from finger to palm to cuff. An even gradient also ensures a better fit because the material stretches and contracts with similar resistance across all areas of the glove. This leads into the discussion on modulus of elasticity of a glove—who knew they could be so intricate!

Heading Into the Final Stretch
Often confused, or at least lumped in, with material thickness is the modulus of a glove. While this may seem like a technical distinction, there is a big difference in these two attributes. Where thickness relates to glove strength and durability, the modulus has more to do with the glove’s elasticity and affects the wearer’s dexterity and fatigue. A glove that is too thick or has material that is too inflexible for a specific task will decrease finger dexterity and increase hand fatigue.

Important to note is that a low modulus isn't always a good thing. Without a quality manufacturing process and the best-quality materials, a low modulus could actually weaken the glove, increasing breakage and waste. The best manufacturers don't take shortcuts or use lower-quality materials to achieve flexibility, but rather focus on advanced manufacturing technology and engineered raw materials to accomplish optimal strength and dexterity.

When the proper materials and processes are used, the result is a more comfortable glove with a lower modulus of elasticity that provides an even distribution of force across the glove’s surface. In other words, it remains incredibly tough with better hand dexterity.

If the Glove Fits ...
Of course, no article on glove wearing would be complete without a note about proper fit. It's probably the number one reason PPE in general isn't used! If something is uncomfortable or doesn’t fit properly, getting people to wear it for 8+ hours a day just isn't going to happen and actually can produce more safety concerns.

Some added skin safeguards being incorporated into the single-use glove include moisture wicking properties that draw sweat away from your hand, reducing the feel of "wet work." Additional skin-protecting qualities include pH balancing so your hands can maintain a proper acidity balance within the occlusive glove environment to help maintain the natural barrier protection your skin provides. And for those with extremely sensitive skin, post-processing technologies that remove the residual chemicals left on a glove after manufacturing can further reduce skin irritation.

Glove manufacturers are recognizing the larger environment where gloves are used, providing holistic hand health properties that not only protect the hand externally, but alleviate discomfort with the glove, as well. By managing the interior, the gloves help mitigate the negative aspects that lead to skin irritation, discomfort, and reduced productivity.

While many people downplay the importance of a well-fitting glove, the bottom line is, make sure the glove is comfortable before you wear it.

Conclusion
In PPE environments, single-use gloves should not be viewed as a commodity product, where the cheapest version wins out. Quality in design and manufacturing of a single-use glove are just as important as in any other piece of PPE. Single-use gloves today are no longer just an obligatory piece of PPE, but are helping to reduce workplace injuries and keeping health care costs down and workers safe on the job while contributing to improved productivity.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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