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Help for hands

08 November 2022

Choosing the right protection for the task at hand is no easy task. Sarah Sebastian's guide to hand protection will help you make an informed decision.

WHAT ARE gloves? The Collins English Dictionary defines them as pieces of clothing which cover your hands and wrists and have individual sections for each finger. You wear gloves to keep your hands warm or dry or to protect them. 

When it comes to gloves, one size does not fit all as there are wide range of factors to consider in selecting the right protection for the task at hand. In order to be safe, workers need to be adequately equipped for the tasks they will be performing and specific hazards they might encounter.

Types of hazards

Potential hazards to hands can include:

  • Abrasion

  • Amputations

  • Cuts

  • Bloodborne Pathogens

  • Biological

  • Chemicals (Dry or Liquid)

  • Chemical Burns (Acid or Base)

  • Electrical Shock

  • Extreme Temperatures

  • Fractures

  • Laceration

  • Heat and Cold

  • Thermal Burns

  • Radiation

  • Vibration and Grip

Hand Protection Requirements

According to HSE, employers must protect workers from health and safety risks. This means they must provide PPE free of charge if a risk assessment shows it is needed.

It is the employer’s duty to ensure that PPE is:

  • properly assessed before use to make sure it is fit for purpose

  • maintained and stored properly

  • provided with instructions on how to use it safely

  • used correctly by workers

Employers must also ensure workers have sufficient information, instruction and training on PPE use.

Types of Protective Gloves

Single-Use Gloves

These gloves are widely used in healthcare facilities and laboratories to protect against chemicals, biohazards, oils, solvents, grease and other harmful substances. Single-use gloves are form-fitting and provide greater dexterity when precision is required. They are generally not designed to be used in highly abrasive environments or with sharp objects and come in a variety of materials—latex, nitrile, vinyl or PVC, and neoprene.

Fabric Gloves

These gloves provide a thin, breathable layer of protection and are good for keeping hands clean while preventing minor scrapes and abrasions. Fabric gloves offer minimal protection against heat and puncture hazards.

Coated Fabric Gloves

These are multi-purpose gloves that provide a higher level of protection against cuts and puncture hazards. Coatings can be made from a variety of materials including, nitrile, latex, polyurethane and PVC. While these gloves offer some level of chemical resistance, it is not advisable to use them in place of dedicated chemical-resistant gloves.

Cut-Resistant Gloves

These gloves are specifically designed to protect against cuts and lacerations and are suitable to be used in highly abrasive environments. These gloves are made of special composite materials in combination with synthetic high-performance yarns, fibreglass, and stainless-steel mesh. Cut-resistant gloves are measured on a scale 0-to-5 or A-thru-F based on the EN 388:2016 standard.

Impact-Resistant Gloves

These gloves are designed to help prevent hand injuries in work environments with high risks of impact hazards. Impact-resistant gloves are equipped with unique protective features such as thermoplastic rubber (TPR), thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) and proprietary foams to shield the top of hands from unexpected impact, crashes and smashes.

Touchscreen Gloves

These gloves are commonly used with human machine interfaces and touchscreen devices and are especially necessary in the modern workplace. Touchscreen-compatible gloves may look like regular gloves, except the fingertips are made of a conducive material allowing workers to use capacitive touchscreen devices without having to remove their gloves.

Leather Gloves

These gloves offer protection against sparks, cuts, and punctures as well as moderate protection against burns. They also provide good grip and insulation. Leather gloves are highly durable if properly maintained but can dry, crack or shrivel when exposed to excessive high temperatures. Leather gloves are commonly used over rubber insulating gloves when working with electrical hazards.

Rubber Insulating Gloves (RIGs)

These gloves are a first line of defence to provide protection against shock and electrocution when working with energised electrical parts and equipment. Made with natural rubber latex, these gloves also protect against an electrical arc flash when used together with leather over gloves.

Chemical-Resistant Gloves

These gloves are essential when working with hazardous materials and provide necessary protection against chemicals and substances. Chemical-resistant gloves often have an inner lining for comfort and warmth, while also offering moderate protection against cuts and abrasions.

What to consider

Industry requirements: For certain industries, you will be required by law to use gloves that meet the necessary requirements. While gloves may look and feel similar, it is important to know the differences to ensure your workers are adequately protected.

Length: Gloves can end at the wrist or extend beyond the elbow, with longer gloves being essential for conditions where workers must submerge their hands or arms.

Thickness: While a thicker glove may offer greater protection, it may affect flexibility and movement. Consider which is more important to your work environment, protection or dexterity.

Fit: A proper fit ensures maximum protection for workers. When gloves are too small or large, they can make working uncomfortable or difficult and may lead to musculoskeletal disorders. To find out which glove size is best, glove manufacturers provide glove charts or scanning applications to help you make the right selection.

Shelf life: Though it is important to keep gloves stored in proper conditions, they do not last forever. The protective properties of some gloves may break down over time which can lead to a lack of effective protection for your workers. 

Chemical resistance: Chemical hazards come in many forms, whether hands are splashed or immersed, it is crucial to select the right chemical protection for your workers. For further chemical protection considerations, see ‘Simple steps to selecting the right chemical protection’ below.

Puncture and cut resistance: Many gloves are designed to protect against sharp objects but may not offer adequate protection against punctures from jagged edges or broken items. It is also important to consider if the abrasions or punctures will occur on top of the hand, to the palm, or both.

Comfort and preference: Although compliance to safety requirements is essential to workplace safety, workers will perform better when their equipment suits them. You will also need to consider if they are wearing the gloves for a short time or will require all-day protection.

Chemical protection

While there is no perfect barrier material for every possible combination of conditions, it is possible to utilise available resources to ensure the best possible choice to deliver maximum protection.
  1. Consider the constrains

Permeation breakthrough time is a theoretical indication of how long it takes a chemical to permeate a glove. It should be used to make a distinction between glove materials and thickness rather than interpreted as total usage time.

  1. Take stock

Make an inventory of all chemicals in your application. Select the most used substances and add those that pose specific health hazards.

  1. Analyse the chemicals

Analyse the chemicals’ permeation times to find out which glove material is best suited to the application. Glove manufacturers may provide risk assessment tools to guide you in selecting the right PPE.

  1. Are there any additional needs

Look at the other aspects of the application aside of chemicals (abrasions, tears, heat, static, etc.) and select from there the best suited solution.

  1. Test and assess

Undertake practice tests to assess usage time in your application. Follow-up with correct usage and care of the product to ensure continued suitability.

Sarah Sebastian is from Ansell. For more information, visit www.ansell.com