For hand protection against acids, caustics, solvents, grease and oil, it is crucial that users don the proper product for their application. As there isn’t a single glove that protects against the thousands of chemicals and chemical combinations workers may come in contact with, glove manufacturers continue to develop gloves for more specific, specialized purposes, providing workers a broader range of hand-protection options from which to choose.
However, forward-thinking glove manufacturers today are researching and developing the next generation of chemical protective gloves with a keener focus on hybridization of needs and materials that possess an array of protective attributes for a broader blanket of hand protection. Still, very specific products that protect against certain chemicals are an integral part of the equation, and manufacturers are reliant upon end users to help guide the way in terms of how chemical-protective gloves evolve based on need. Driving production decisions, manufacturers must answer some critical base questions and provide a solution for those needs. Questions that arise that drive the manufacturing solution(s):
— What are the common chemicals used?
— What is the standard nature of contact? Is it incidental or extended contact?
— What is the duration of contact?
— Is it just the hand that needs protecting, or the forearm and arm as well?
— What kind of grip is needed (situational contact)?
— What is the anticipated lifespan of the glove?
Obviously, moving forward from this path, the next step from a PPE planning perspective is to determine the products that solve these questions. However, where is the industry going in terms of manufacturing processes? What could the future of chemical hand protection look like?
Hybridization for multi-use applications
The future of chemical hand protection seems to be shifting toward products that protect against multiple hazards. Hybrids, for lack of a better term, are a growing segment in the industry. Glove manufacturers have found ways to manipulate cutting-edge yarns and fibres into a construction that can support cut and chemical hazards while maintaining high flexibility and reduce glove weight, without compromising chemical or cut performance levels. Manufacturers are taking additional twists with thermal plastics/resins for pinch and impact protection, as well as providing chemical and cut attributes. New fringe technologies ranging from “smart fibres” that respond to various stimuli, such as detecting certain chemicals, to new engineered yarns, to enhanced coatings, will continue to be incorporated into protective gloves in all areas based in part by customer demand.
The goal is to move towards the “one-glove solution” as much as possible for the selection for these critical tasks. Industries such as chemical refineries, oil and gas segments and fracking are just a few strong candidates to benefit immediately from this type of technology, but the audience that will benefit is vast. With R&D teams moving in this direction, there are already products that possess these varying protective qualities, and it appears only more will become available to multiple industries.
Smart, Ergonomically Fit Products
Ergonomics is a critically important mandate in all areas of hand protection, and it’s no different with the evolution of chemical hand protection. Glove manufacturers look for new ways to increase dexterity and comfort for the user, while simultaneously increasing their protective properties and performance. It is this delicate balance that manufacturers (and end users) strive for. One such evolution has been in the area of seamless liner construction, which provides the comfort end users require for the critical tasks at hand. One of the most compromising attributes that leads to glove abandonment is discomfort. Thick stitching and seams inside classic gloves results in chafing and blisters; they also create weak points in the gloves’ construction. Seamless liners provide a snugger fit, better tactility with non-slip grips, an even grasp on objects and much less hand fatigue in oily, chemically heavy conditions. This enables hands to operate at peak performance without ever letting comfort or dexterity falter. Within our product suite, seamless, ergonomically sound liner construction can be seen within products such as SHOWA’s new 379, coupled with its double-dipped nitrile technology and the addition of chemical/cut resistant technology in SHOWA 3416 featuring HPPE cut resistance and high chemical protection, to name a few.
The future of chemical hand protection is moving into a broader scope of protection for users. Glove manufacturers will continue to push and stretch the boundaries of the yarns, fibres and truly revolutionary materials at their disposal — from the design, to the construction, to the coating, to the fabric and feel — chemical-resistant gloves will continue to be created better to perform and protect better. It’s anyone’s guess just where it will lead, but the end user will most certainly benefit.
Dave Shutt is the director of product management at SHOWA’s headquarters in Menlo, Georgia. A 20-plus-year veteran of the glove industry, he holds a degree in business administration from Malone College and is a Carnegie graduate.