It may seem like hand protection is a very simple thing to address. Just take a pair of gloves and wear them … right? Wrong! The selection of the right hand protection can be quite vexing. If there are multiple uses, you may need gloves that are more versatile or even initiate a policy of changing out different gloves for different purposes.
Hand injuries account for more than 10 percent of emergency room visits in the United States, according to Medline, a comprehensive source of life sciences and biomedical bibliographic information. The number of injuries alone should be evidence enough to ensure that proper hand protection is worn consistently. However, between October 2006 and September 2007, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) issued 225 violations for noncompliance with the rules for hand protection. These violations totaled more than $96,000 in fines. This does not include the costs associated with fines against general personal protective equipment (PPE) rules or other related violations that are likely to be issued.
So which glove can protect you from every chemical? There are some universal gloves to protect against chemicals that may satisfy virtually any exposure you could encounter, but they will be quite expensive and are usually not too comfortable. The best answer is to select the correct gloves for the specific exposures you may encounter. Below are some considerations for choosing the right gloves.
General decision making
Disposable or reusable — Do you have washing facilities available? What about storage? Disposable gloves will be inherently less durable, but if the tasks are of limited duration, they may make more sense. If you have long and consistent exposures, a reusable glove may be your best choice.
Grip — Selecting a glove that has enough dexterity and grip is vital. If you are handling large, bulky items, grip becomes less of an issue. But if you are dealing with small parts, performing intricate tasks, or working in cold or wet environments, grip could be very important. Make sure the polymers used in gripping gloves are tested in the environment in which you are going to work. Some may be good for dry application but not for wet. Some may melt in high temperatures or become rigid in cold. All of these answers are found in the product specifications you can obtain from the glove manufacturer.
Cutting/puncture/abrasion — The classic leather work glove will normally satisfy most physical protection needs on a work site. Knowing what types of hazards are present will help in choosing the best work glove. If slicing is a concern, then a metal thread or Kevlar-type glove will be best. If abrasion or blistering is the concern, then a common cotton-type glove may suffice. Keep in mind that the glove material must satisfy the need. Look at the product specifications closely and make your choice based upon them and not just the cost. Some of the more expensive top grain leathers are actually less durable than the lower cost, suede-leather styles.
Heat resistance/flame protection — Heat and fire protection are two very different things. Just because a glove will not burn under normal use does not mean it will insulate your hand from high temperatures. If you are handling hot surfaces, then heat resistance is most important. If you will expose the glove to open flames or very high temperatures, then flame resistance and heat resistance are vital.
There are very few “generic” answers to selecting gloves to protect you from chemicals. The most versatile rule is “like material dissolves like material.” If you are working with chlorine-based chemicals, do not select a polyvinyl chloride glove. If you are dealing with alcohols, do not select a polyvinyl alcohol material for protection. Now that you know some of the selections not to choose, how do you find the material that you should choose? First and foremost, review the product’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). This will tell you what chemicals are in the product and will recommend an appropriate glove for protection. From there you can visit the glove supplier’s web site and look for items that match the MSDS recommendation.
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