If a workplace hazard assessment reveals that employees face potential injury to hands and arms that cannot be eliminated through engineering and work practice controls, employers must ensure that employees wear appropriate protection. Potential hazards include skin absorption of harmful substances, chemical or thermal burns, electrical dangers, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures and amputations. Protective equipment includes gloves, finger guards and arm coverings or elbow-length gloves.
Employers should explore all possible engineering and work practice controls to eliminate hazards and use PPE to provide additional protection against hazards that cannot be completely eliminated through other means. For example, machine guards may eliminate a hazard. Installing a barrier to prevent employees from placing their hands at the point of contact between a table saw blade and the item being cut is another method.
Types of Protective Gloves
There are many types of gloves available today to protect against a wide variety of hazards. The nature of the hazard and the operation involved will affect the selection of gloves. The variety of potential occupational hand injuries makes selecting the right pair of gloves challenging. It is essential that employees use gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace because gloves designed for one function may not protect against a different function even though they may appear to be an appropriate protective device.
The following are examples of some factors that may influence the selection of protective gloves for a workplace.
- Type of chemicals handled.
- Nature of contact (total immersion, splash, etc.).
- Duration of contact.
- Area requiring protection (hand only, forearm, arm).
- Grip requirements (dry, wet, oily).
- Thermal protection.
- Size and comfort.
- Abrasion/resistance requirements.
Gloves made from a wide variety of materials are designed for many types of workplace hazards. In general, gloves fall into four groups:
- Gloves made of leather, canvas or metal mesh;
- Fabric and coated fabric gloves;
- Chemical- and liquid-resistant gloves;
- Insulating rubber gloves (See 29 CFR 1910.137 and the following section on electrical protective equipment for detailed requirements on the selection, use and care of insulating rubber gloves).
The following table from the U.S. Department of Energy (Occupational Safety and Health Technical Reference Manual) rates various gloves as being protective against specific chemicals and will help you select the most appropriate gloves to protect your employees. The ratings are abbreviated as follows: VG: Very Good; G: Good; F: Fair; P: Poor (not recommended). Chemicals marked with an asterisk (*) are for limited service.
|Chromic acid (50%)||F||P||F||F|
|Citric acid (10%)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Epoxy resins, dry||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Hydrofluoric acid (48%)||VG||G||G||G|
|Hydrogen peroxide (30%)||G||G||G||G|
|Lactic acid (85%)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Lauric acid (36%)||VG||F||VG||VG|
|Methyl ethyl ketone*||G||G||VG||P|
|Methyl isobutyl ketone*||F||F||VG||P|
|Nitric acid, red and white fuming||P||P||P||P|
|Perchloric acid (60%)||VG||F||G||G|
|Petroleum distillates (naphtha)||G||P||P||VG|
|Propyl alcohol (iso)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Tannic acid (65)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Toluene diisocyanate (TDI)||F||G||G||F|
Care of Protective Gloves
Protective gloves should be inspected before each use to ensure that they are not torn, punctured or made ineffective in any way. A visual inspection will help detect cuts or tears but a more thorough inspection by filling the gloves with water and tightly rolling the cuff towards the fingers will help reveal any pinhole leaks. Gloves that are discolored or stiff may also indicate deficiencies caused by excessive use or degradation from chemical exposure.
Any gloves with impaired protective ability should be discarded and replaced. Reuse of chemical-resistant gloves should be evaluated carefully, taking into consideration the absorptive qualities of the gloves. A decision to reuse chemically-exposed gloves should take into consideration the toxicity of the chemicals involved and factors such as duration of exposure, storage and temperature.