Cashins & Associates Blog

Industrial Hygiene - Chemical-resistant gloves: a crash course

Posted by Eileen Watkins on Thu, Sep, 17, 2015 @ 11:09 AM

Industrial-Hygiene-Gloves-PPEOur last blog article focused on health hazards that are caused by skin contact with harmful chemicals.  Many workers wear chemical-resistant gloves to protect themselves from these negative health effects.  There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of gloves on the market.  How do you know which one is best for your chemical workers?  Read on to learn all you need to know about chemical-resistant gloves so that you can make an informed decision the next time you purchase them. It is always a good idea to have a certified industrial hygienist review the glove selection prior to purchasing 

Gloves are made using polymers of many different types of compounds, including nitrile, neoprene, butyl, polyvinyl chloride, and latex.  An individual chemical will react differently to these various glove materials.  Ideally, the chemical reacts minimally with the material and the glove provides an effective barrier to the skin.  The unfortunate reality is that chemicals often do react with glove materials.  In extreme cases, they cause the material to blister, warp, or dissolve.  Very often the incompatibility is exhibited by the migration of chemical from the outside of the glove to the inner surface - and the skin.  This phenomenon can be so subtle that the person wearing the glove may not even notice it. 

Fortunately there are ways to determine the suitability of a glove material to various chemical compounds.  Specifically, the ASTM F739 and EN 374 tests for glove degradation (how much the glove deteriorates or experiences other physical changes in texture, color, etc.) and permeation (how quickly does the chemical travel from one side of the glove to the other?) allow us to determine and understand the performance of glove materials in chemical environments.

Responsible glove manufacturers will evaluate their gloves using the ASTM and EN tests.  Some have even developed glove selection guides which assign a relative ranking to different glove and chemical combinations.  The rankings are based on the ASTM and EN results and reflect excellent, good, or poor glove performance.  Even a cursory look at the guides illustrates that glove materials perform very differently in different chemical environments.  A material that provides excellent protection against inorganic acids may be a poor choice for certain organic solvents, for example.

While the glove material is the single most important factor to consider when protecting your workers from skin contact with chemicals, other factors must also be considered.  For example, does the glove need additional functionality such as heat or cut resistance?  Is the glove being used for protection against intermittent splashes or significant immersion situations?  Does the glove come in different sizes that will fit various hand sizes? 

Finally, don't forget that glove use is covered in OSHA's Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Standard, 29 CFR 1910.132.  It requires all employers to deliberately follow a process of assessing the workplace for hazards, selecting PPE (in this case, gloves) that adequately protects the employees, and documenting the assessment and selection in a written Certificate of Hazard Assessment.  Employers must also train their workers on the following: which tasks require glove use; which glove type is required; how to properly use, care, and dispose of the gloves; and the limitations which prevent complete protection in every situation.

You can see that here's a lot more to chemical-resistant gloves than you might have originally thought.  We are happy to continue this discussion and hope you share your questions or comments with us.  We're also available to evaluate your workplace, your PPE selections, and your OSHA compliance status.  Click on the icon below to submit your inquiry.  We look forward to hearing from you and helping with your industrial hygiene and safety program!

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