Select a glove based on specific environmental hazards, as well as potential exposure time to those hazards. (Ansell photo)

A Need for Chemical Resistance Breeds the Growth of Robust Disposable Gloves

For workers dealing with lower-level chemicals, a happy medium between traditional disposable gloves and heavy-duty chemical gloves is often needed.

The disposable glove market is anything but disposable to workers and safety managers around the world. A recent report from Allied Market Research noted the global disposable market was valued at $6.14 billion in 2016.1 Gone are the days when disposable gloves were perceived to be only applicable to the health care field for addressing and maintaining hygienic conditions. Advancements in newer manufacturing technology and industry expansion have created a need for disposable gloves and their inherent benefits across industries ranging from aerospace to automotive to electronics.

An increased abundance of chemicals in the workforce has driven an increased need for disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) in such industries—and with that comes greater safety risks. Occupational exposure to chemicals costs U.S. businesses more than $1 billion every year, according to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology.2 The report includes estimates for decreased productivity, medical expenses, and loss of work due to illness. Add to that the potential hidden costs such as litigation, increased insurance premiums and the hardships—physical, mental, and/or monetary—a worker and his or her family may face, and the costs of chemical exposure are dramatically higher.

The evidence is clear that protection really does matter in the workplace. Workers need disposable gloves to work harder for them than ever before.

To Don or Not to Don: When is a Disposable Glove Applicable?
National and workplace safety standards require the use of appropriate hand protection wherever the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals exists. For heavy-duty exposure, there are a multitude of reusable, robust products on the market. Featuring thicker construction, these gloves resist chemical penetration, permeation, and degradation longer than splash-resistant gloves. The use of chemical-resistant reusable gloves is vital wherever the exposure risk to harmful chemicals is high or where the exposure will be prolonged or immersive.

However, in today's evolving workplace, much of a worker's day-to-day chemical exposure may not be as intense as described above. Approximately 82,000 chemicals are used in industries that range from manufacturing to maintenance to life sciences3—and many of those chemicals are more common than you may think. They include everyday products such as detergents, cleaning agents, paints, solvents, and metalworking fluids.

Therefore, heavy-duty protection isn't always needed for day-to-day interaction with common chemicals, and in fact, might not be ideal. Heavy-duty gloves come with inherent bulk, hindering fit, grip, and tactile sensitivity, which can result in reduced ability to manipulate equipment, as well as slow productivity. Furthermore, ill-fitting gloves are more likely to be removed or left unworn due to the wearer's discomfort and inability to handle materials. For workers dealing with lower-level chemicals, a happy medium between traditional disposable gloves and heavy-duty chemical gloves is often needed and necessary.

Bridging the Gap: Building a Better Disposable Glove
With chemicals more abundant in the workplace—and with them a greater risk for injury—proper personal protection is a critical requirement. However, the design and designated applications of chemical and disposable gloves is quickly evolving. Technology and availability of more robust options to better bridge the gap between traditional disposable and heavy-duty chemical gloves is making a much-needed splash across workplaces.

While disposable gloves are commonly constructed of latex, nitrile, or neoprene, unique composites of these materials and innovative layering technology are delivering the splash-resistant benefits of a chemical glove while still maintaining the comfortable thin feel and secure grip associated with traditional disposable gloves. Together, these attributes can reduce hand and forearm muscle fatigue to prevent the likelihood of costly or dangerous accidents or spills.

Innovations in design also are helping disposable gloves work harder and longer for workers than ever before. For example, some gloves now employ a multi-layered design. One layer will protect against acids and bases, while another might protect against solvents and provide more abrasion resistance. Tougher exteriors also help PPE stand up longer in demanding physical and chemical environments.

Glove innovations are improving capabilities and changing customer expectations of disposable gloves for the better. When it comes time to select chemical PPE, you've got numerous options, and it can be overwhelming given all of the choices.

Selection Time: Picking the Right Robust Disposable Glove
With more robust disposable gloves on the market, a challenge arises: How do you select the right robust disposable glove for your need? How do you ensure it meets specific worker requirements? What makes one glove a cut above the rest?

First and foremost, always conduct a hazard assessment to take stock of any possible hazards in the environment. Understanding exactly what workers need protection from is critical in selecting the proper PPE. Reading the labels and the safety data sheets of liquids is a good place to start.

Factoring in the application and setting is critical as well. Are sterile or clean gloves needed? Is protection against heat or cold necessary? Is there an additional risk for cut? Select a glove based on specific environmental hazards, as well as potential exposure time to those hazards.

Finally, considering necessary glove features is imperative to ensure the glove aids worker movement and productivity instead of hindering progress. There are a few key types of protection to consider when selecting a chemical-protective disposable glove:

  • Durability: When gloves frequently rip or tear during the course of a job, it can put workers at risk of exposure to hazardous materials. For robust protection, look for heavier-weight gloves with higher tensile strength and greater break force values.
  • Tactility: Workers who wear disposable gloves often need outstanding dexterity to get the job done. Look for gloves that allow exceptional tactility and comfort when wet and dry to support worker performance.
  • Grip: Certain nitrile formulations provide better grip and tackiness than others, allowing workers to handle objects with confidence and ease. Look for texture in the fingers and palm as well to improve grip.
  • Splash protection: Splashes will inevitably occur in the workplace. If workers find their gloves degrade and easily break apart, better protection against chemicals and liquids is needed. Gloves with better degradation and permeation properties protect for longer periods of time.
  • Quality: Not all gloves are manufactured to the same standards. Some may have more pinhole defects, creating a breach and allowing chemicals and liquids to seep through the glove barrier. If concerned about breaches, examine a glove's Acceptable Quality Level (AQL). AQL is a measure of product defects, such as pinholes in disposable gloves. A low AQL is an indication that the glove is manufactured and tested to higher standards and there is a lower risk of having pinhole defects.

Disposable gloves are now anything but disposable in the workplace—innovations and robust product offerings have allowed disposable gloves to work harder, longer, and better for the wearer. Users no longer have to trade the comfort of thin, disposable gloves for the splash resistance or more comprehensive protection of chemical gloves.

2. Potential Health Effects Associated with Dermal Exposure to Occupational Chemicals, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2014
3. Potential Health Effects Associated with Dermal Exposure to Occupational Chemicals, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2014

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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