Personal Protective Equipment – Gloves in the Workplace

Environmental Health and Safety Department, Fort Myers, Florida – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over one million workers go to the emergency room with a hand injury each year. The proper use and care of gloves may help prevent the most common types of work-related hand injuries including abrasions, penetrations, fractures, burns, and lacerations.

OSHA’s 1910.138 standard indicates that ‘employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees’ hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes,’ and that ‘appropriate hand protection [should be] relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use, and the hazards and potential hazards identified.’

The first step in determining what type of gloves are necessary is to conduct a hazard assessment to evaluate various risks in the project’s scope of work. Safety data sheets will list dangerous components present in all products from cleaning solvents to adhesives to chemicals. The expected level or duration of exposure must also be determined; the task may require sustained protection or simpler intermittent splash protection. The area requiring protection should be evaluated (hand, forearm, etc.), as well as any grip or thermal requirements. Proper sizing is important; loose fitting gloves which may get caught in machinery increase the risk of injury.

Tears or punctures in gloves also add to the potential risk of hand injury. A visual inspection to look for tears prior to work commencement should be performed. To find pinholes, fill the gloves with water and tightly roll from the cuff to the fingers. Staining or stiffness may indicate compromised and therefore unsafe gloves.

Generally, work gloves fall into four categories: those made of leather, canvas, or metal mesh; those made of fabric; chemical or liquid resistant gloves usually made of butyl, latex, neoprene or nitrile; and insulating rubber gloves. Porous gloves should not be used with chemicals and should be cleaned regularly or discarded. High heat and humidity may also compromise gloves left in vehicles or on job sites and should be visually inspected before each use.

OSHA provides an overview of glove materials and the hazards they may protect against:

Metal mesh, leather or canvas: Cuts, burns, sustained heat

Leather: Sparks, moderate heat, blows, chips and rough objects

Fabric: Dirt, slivers, chafing and abrasions

Coated fabric: Slip resistant and used for tasks ranging from handling bricks and wire to chemical laboratory containers

Aramid fiber: Extreme temperatures, cuts and abrasions

Aluminized: Heat

GFA International encourages all its affected employees to consistently and appropriately employ all personal protective equipment (PPE), and to contact a supervisor with questions regarding PPE or to request a PPE hazard assessment.