Extended Use Barrier Gloves: The Optimal Choice For Savings, Productivity and Sustainability

Barrier glove technology – whether thick polymer “canner” types or thin disposables – has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, along with the increase in use. Gone are the days when rough hands or stained fingers defined what we did for a living. Today, everyone is sensitive to the effects of skin disease brought on by exposure to solvents, greases and even seemingly benign industrial cleaning solutions. More recently, the stronger enforcement of glove usage in industries where food products are handled has also increased the need for better gloves.

Particularly with thin disposable gloves, a spike in awareness related to contact with chemicals and germs has fueled use dramatically and with that, the availability of evermore inexpensive alternatives. One way of stripping out the cost when producing disposable gloves is by offering or playing with thickness while claiming “the same performance.” There’s also a long-standing practice of promoting disposable gloves by count, but then packaging and selling them by weight – allowing for less than the acceptable count. Less obvious and more confusing is the lack of transparency with glove AQL (Acceptable Quality Level), which indicates the number of defects that may be accepted in a production lot of disposable gloves. And, finally, perhaps the least obvious way of all is to increase the number of fillers in the formulation of the nitrile or latex being used to make the gloves. This results in a glove that may look like any other, but whose durability is not even close. Fillers break down faster when exposed to oily solvents or even animal proteins resulting in gloves cracking or bloating and allowing for the penetration or permeation of liquids.

If we stop to think about it, choosing low-cost barrier gloves ends up costing more – not just because of overuse and potential accidental skin exposure, but due to the productivity loss associated with change-outs. As we all know, change-outs sometimes provide workers with an opportunity for a quick break. However, the more damaging effect of using low-cost disposable gloves may be the waste factor associated with overall inventory and cost. These gloves end up costing more since they don’t last as long and therefore, more gloves are used up causing more gloves to end up in landfills.

When we look at the explosion in the use of these barrier gloves and the fact that they are mostly rubber – natural or synthetic OR some other polymer such as neoprene or PVC – we can’t help but ask ourselves, how can we stay protected but still reduce waste?

Let’s begin with disposable barrier gloves, appropriately referred to as “single-use” gloves, which very much reflects how they are used in industrial and OEM operations. There is a high usage rate of single-use gloves from workbenches to quality and R&D labs in large-scale manufacturing – as well as maintenance departments and mechanical shops. They are often donned when a worker is required to protect against contact with greases and oils or touching dirty or contaminated parts. Sometimes they are used as barrier gloves when engaging in the industrial cleaning of parts or large equipment. The thinking is, “As long as I don’t feel the liquid penetrating to my skin, I remain protected.”

The fact is that a single-use disposable glove that is typically between 3 to 5 mils does not serve these applications well. When used to apply grease or handle parts, they offer no grip and often end up snagging and easily ripping in very little time. When used in cleaning applications, there is no assurance that the chemical is not permeating the glove because of pinholes, fissures or just the fact that the length of the glove barely makes it past the wrist.

Now let’s look at thicker polymer gloves, often referred to as chemical gloves in industrial applications or canners and unsupported nitrile gloves in the food industry. These barrier gloves range from 11 to 20 mils and some even have a liner on the inside for easy donning and doffing as well as added comfort. In the case of gloves made of PVC, neoprene or nitrile, the original and most common use was for chemical handling. Up until a few years ago, workers were required to manually fill hoppers or vats with chemicals in a production line. Today, advancements in automation have engineered out much of the human contact with industrial process chemicals by way of closed-loop systems. In food processing, workers struggle with oversized gloves that are uncomfortable and offer little or no grip. These gloves are often latex canners or unsupported nitrile. While latex canners may offer better flexibility and fit over nitrile gloves, lower-cost versions may swell when used in continuous contact with protein-based liquids. Workers may also have allergies to the latex material.

We can see that both single-use gloves and thicker polymer gloves have challenges in the manufacturing environment. They are either too thin and not durable enough OR too thick, inflexible and uncomfortable. The culmination of these problems is what led to the invention of a new category of barrier glove: the Extended Use glove. Now, you may be asking yourself, what are the characteristics that make barrier gloves be considered as extended use? First, they are made of a special formulation that delivers a high level of durability, comfort and dexterity. The next key feature of Extended Use gloves relates to their grip – they should offer unparalleled grip which typically is achieved by the incorporation of a patented technology, such as a unique fish scale design, that is on BOTH the outside and inside of the glove.

So, What is the Optimal Solution?

Factories and MRO

The Extended Use glove is becoming the glove choice in factories and MRO applications. While still qualifying as a thin wall nitrile glove, it is typically between 6 and 8 mils thick and made of a higher quality nitrile with fewer fillers. It also is typically longer in length which covers the vulnerable wrist area. In situations where industrial MRO technicians and mechanics struggle with grasping oily or greasy parts and end up chucking out an average of 6 to 8 pairs of disposable gloves a day, switching to an Extended Use glove allows them to work more productively due to a significantly lower chance of the glove ripping with every snag, or disintegrating when coming in contact with common bench or parts cleaners, oils and greases. In addition to this, select types of Extended Use gloves feature a patented fish scale design which greatly enhances grip when handling slippery parts.

Food Plants

Extended Use gloves are also becoming widely popular with food plants, replacing disposable gloves as well as canners and unsupported nitrile gloves. Notwithstanding changes-out rules as outlined by the FDA, Extended Use gloves with the right grip technology can provide workers a much better grip particularly with high protein meats such as poultry or fish, allowing for faster processing. At the same time, the high-quality nitrile formulations can also withstand breakdown better than latex while providing the worker with a more comfortable and flexible glove.

Better Grip, More Comfort, Less Changeouts and Waste

Circling back to the question of how we can stay protected but still reduce waste, it’s simple: Extended Use gloves are the optimal option. With Extended Use gloves, a glove that falls somewhere between a single-use disposable and reusable, a revolutionary new hand protection solution has been introduced that helps workers perform their job better by increasing productivity while reducing waste and offering companies an opportunity to generate cost savings. It’s a win-win for workers and their companies.

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