From disposable surgical gloves to reflective road crew gloves, safety gloves have distinct personalities and purposes in the workplace. Primarily, they serve to protect hands (and sometimes arms) from multiple sources of harm: caustic chemicals, voltage jolts, bio-hazards, scorching heat, freezing cold, and more.
According to a data source reviewed by OSHA, when workers in one study injured their hands, 70 percent were found to be wearing no gloves. In the remaining 30 percent, the gloves worn by the workers were damaged, inadequate, or the wrong type for the task and hazards encountered.
Many of these injuries, if not most, could be prevented with job-matched gloves. OSHA documents emphasize the importance of wearing personal protective equipment:
“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.”
Here are some things to consider when trying to select the safety gloves that best match your workplace.
What’s your type?
There are many varieties of safety gloves. Listed below are a few of the most common types:
Chemical- and liquid-resistant gloves protect wearers from substances that penetrate the skin and potentially cause irritation, rashes, and burns. Usually made of neoprene, latex, nitrile, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or butyl, the glove material should be compatible with the chemical being handled. (Cole-Parmer, a distributor or scientific instruments, laboratory and industrial equipment, and supplies, has an online tool for checking the compatibility of safety gloves at ColeParmer.com.)
Disposable industrial or laboratory gloves limit contamination in clean-room environments, microchip production laboratories, and medical facilities. They are worn when handling blood pathogens, germs, or other potentially hazardous biological samples. Because finger sensitivity and dexterity is important for these applications, these gloves may also be used in food safety, technology, and preparation applications as well. Typically, these disposable safety gloves carry a label stating that they are compliant with FDA regulations for food contact.
Electrical safety gloves are generally rubber-insulated to protect electricians who are working with live wires and electrical charges. As an effective non-conductor, rubber offers voltage-resistance according to specified levels. Sometimes electrical workers wear leather gloves on top of the rubber-insulated gloves to further protect against abrasions and cuts.
Temperature-resistant gloves keep skin from experiencing the effects of extreme heat or cold. Those outside working conditions or indoors in freezers, cold storage units, or cryogenics need to protect their hands from frostbite. Welders, firefighters, and other workers toiling around open flames need glove materials that can withstand high levels of heat up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, extreme temperature globes are knitted with materials that allow users to safely work with diffusion furnaces, hot/dry glassware, and liquid gas flasks.
Cut resistant gloves safeguard wearers from snags, punctures, abrasions, and cuts and are most often found in industrial settings or animal handling applications. Cut-resistant gloves may be constructed of metal mesh or Kevlar, perhaps with another material integrated in the fabric or added as coating to enhance the grip.
Leather-work gloves crafted of cowhide, goatskin, horsehide, deerskin, or pigskin are often tough yet pliable for farming and agricultural uses, carpentry, driving heavy machinery, and related applications.
Finger-less gloves for cycling, sailing, and road racing also can be useful in work settings where optimal dexterity is necessary and there is no need to protect fingers from moving parts, contamination, or other hazards.
Finger cots cover one or more fingers for protection when an entire glove is unnecessary. Made of nitrile, latex, vinyl, or rubber, they are used when handling Class II stat-sensitive or ESD-sensitive devices with thresholds above 1000V.