OHS Canada Magazine

Hands-Down Protection

March 23, 2015
By Angela Stelmakowich

If safety gloves were ships, the main message would likely be “Steady as she goes.” While no great new wave looks to be bearing down on the marketplace, that hardly means the waters are not churning just below the surface.

Building on innovations in linings and coatings, making gloves more form-fitting and upping end-user education are critical issues charting the course toward an even better fit for today’s workplaces. That’s surely welcome, since the need for chemical resistance, heat protection, impact avoidance and keeping hands clean is not retreating any time soon.

A little finesse

Michael Everett, general manager at Showa Best Glove in Coaticook, Quebec, says the company has focused on improving and refining existing technologies. Research and development efforts have included identifying combinations of materials for glove linings, thinner linings to bolster comfort and making available different coatings to suit specific hazards.

Superior Glove in Acton, Ontario has responded to market need (and opportunity) by ramping up a few areas. Joe Geng, the company’s vice-president, says one focus is to build on the use of seamless knitting technology.

As for glove specifications, Geng reports his company sees “testing the attributes of gloves as an area for opportunity.” Customers are demanding information on cut, puncture and abrasion resistance, as well as heat insulation, he says.

Fit is clearly an issue, supporting as it does worker comfort and, in turn, compliance. Although hardly new, Bruce Dally, vice-president of sales and marketing for Watson Gloves in Burnaby, British Columbia, sees coated gloves continuing to be a market force. “They continue to be the best-selling glove because of how they fit, how they protect and how they’re able to help an employee do his job better and safer,” says Dally.

And overall hand protection must take into account glove material, linings and coatings. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton, Ontario advises that choosing an appropriate material requires reviewing, among other things, the task to be done, the hazards, flexibility and touch sensitivity needed, type of potential contact, contact period, and training regarding the hazards of skin contact, the limitations of any gloves used, the possible result if gloves fail and when to dispose of or decontaminate gloves.

Geng suggests that by asking questions (and demanding information), “end users are becoming much more educated, and this is resulting in improved hand protection for workers.”

Heart of the matter

First, there is the need; second is the compliance. And central to compliance is comfort. If users are not comfortable, says Everett, “they’re going to find a way not to wear [safety gloves],” he says. “Then they just set themselves up for injury.”

Everett likens glove liners to the foundation of a house. “From there, you can dip them: full dip them, palm dip them [and] flat dip them.”

Expanding and enhancing flat-dip glove offerings is an area Showa has pursued. The process calls for starting with a seamless knitted glove and dipping the palm and fingertips in some coating (these may include natural rubber, neoprene, polyvinyl chloride [PVC] and nitrile, a synthetic rubber), Everett says.

“Historically, the gloves would be completely dipped,” says Everett, but by coating only the zones where protection is needed, comfort is greatly enhanced. “It’s breathable, it’s a lot more flexible, a lot more comfortable.”

West Chester Holdings in Monroe, Ohio seems to concur that dips are the way to go. In 2009, a foam nitrile, palm-dip glove was released to market that featured a nylon shell, dip over the palm and fingertips, antibacterial surfactants, and a knit wrist for wearer comfort. Capable of drawing liquid away from the surface, the gloves gripped well even in wet applications.

Cutting edge

Geng points out that cuts are the number one hand injury in industrial workplaces, thereby falling squarely in the market’s line of vision.

Cut-resistant materials include, among others, Kevlar, Dyneema, glass and thin strips of steel woven together. Geng notes there are different related standards, including those of the European Union and the United States. “Both these standards rate gloves on a scale of 0 to 5, but the test methods are completely different and the standards do not correlate at all,” he argues.

Another strength area may be composite yarns. With the combination of two or more high-strength materials offering better performance than the sum of their parts, Geng says, his company has put some focus on this area. As an example, he cites the mix of Kevlar and stainless steel.

Chemical matters

No glove material is impervious to a specific chemical forever, and no single material is resistant to all chemicals, notes information from the CCOHS. Among other things, risk varies according to the specific chemical, its concentration and the length of contact. Materials that may be appropriate when using chemicals include natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile rubber, butyl rubber, Teflon and polyvinyl chloride.

Permeation rate, breakthrough time and degradation must be taken into account to ensure not just the promise of worker safety, but actual safety. Some chemicals permeate gloves in a few seconds; others take days or weeks.

Dally notes his company offers a line of gloves that are well-suited for use with any high-impact tool, drills or machinery that creates vibration since the gel inside the units deadens vibration.

Lab demands

Of course, not every workplace is measured by its rough and tumble — but that does not mean hazards are absent. Some lab workers need gloves to protect them from a variety of dangerous chemicals, including acetic acid, benzene, ammonia hydroxide, carbon tetrachloride, dimethylacetamide, methylene chloride and sulphuric acid. Labs, by their nature, need to be clean and sterile. But those attributes are of value in related settings too.

Showa has offered gloves to protect against swine flu, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas and other pathogenic microorganisms. These can be used for routine activity, patient care, decontamination and clean-up and can be wiped with hand sanitizers to kill microorganisms.

Dally suggests that with H1N1 in mind, disposable gloves made of nitrile, rubber latex or PVC would do the trick.

The latex would be an option, of course, unless an individual has a latex allergy. Proteins and additives in some gloves may cause reactions, ranging from hives to runny nose, asthma and full intolerance.

Cold out there

With winter’s arrival, protection from the cold would certainly be welcome. But why not also be seen? Some companies offer a range of high-visibility thermal gloves suited for outdoor tasks — from construction to utilities and materials handling. The gloves feature a thermal, terry loop, seamless lining, an open back to reduce perspiration buildup and natural latex rubber coating on the palm and thumb.

Keeping the hands warm and dry in cold, wet and winter conditions will help reduce the threat of accident brought about by a loss of grip and feeling, notes a company release.

Value is value

Sometimes, the customer wants something general. Ansell has a portfolio of vinyl and latex disposable gloves designed for a wide range of food-handling, general-duty and light industrial applications. The natural rubber latex provides high dexterity while offering the strength and comfort characteristics of natural rubber latex.

Can a single glove cover off all hazards? “There is no such thing as a catchall glove, not even close,” says Geng.

When a worker is exposed to a number of hazards, Everett says, people may select gloves according to “whatever is the most destructive and use that as your comparative.” However impressive the protection, there will be a trade-off.

With a big, bulky glove, Everett cautions, comfort and tactile dexterity will, no doubt, take a hit. But with gloves becoming more durable, there may be a shift in thinking about simply using something once and then throwing it away.

Everett’s view is that there can never be too much comfort, but there can be over-protection. A glove can be produced with cut-level-5 protection, but if that level is not required, the employer is overpaying for the glove.

Dally agrees comfort is paramount. Citing construction crews across from his office: “If they’re not comfortable, if [the glove] creates a blister, they’re not going to wear their gloves. That means they’re not going to buy our gloves. And if they’re not wearing gloves, they’re in jeopardy of hand injury.”

Down to education

Ultimate protection is aligned closely with buyers becoming informed and involved. Superior Gloves’ website has a section called, “Work Gloves 101,” with a plethora of information, for example. Still, more awareness is needed. “It is amazing how many companies have been using the same glove for 30 years, simply because they are available,” Geng says.

It is “up to us to recommend the ideal glove that provides the most value without jeopardizing safety for the best price,” Dally says.

It takes time to get the right safety gloves for the right application. Employers can save money and protect their workers by getting it right the first time.

Angela Stelmakowich is a former editor of OHS Canada.

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