It’s probably something that you never thought about before, right? It’s certainly a conversion stopper at parties, but something very serious on a professional level. Gloves come out of the packet, so they have to be clean. No-one has ever used them before, so if I use a new pair of gloves every time they must be ok, mustn’t they?
Don’t take this for granted as a lot of the gloves today contain residue chemicals left in the glove from the production process. This is not intended to be a scare article, rather an article to assist you in making a more informed choice – and we’ll start with leather.
Leather – the cleanliness issue
The problem is quite widespread – so say studies by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (BGFA) at the Ruhr University in Bochum (Germany) and the Danish Technological Institute for the Environment.
The BGFA found that 45% of the leather gloves tested positive to Chromium (VI) impurities despite the fact that most modern tanning agents are free from large amounts of Chromium (VI). Likewise, the Danish Technological Institute for the Environment found 35% of the leather gloves tested contained Chromium (VI) in levels above the acceptable parts per million (PPM) guides for harmful ingredients. So why do studies like these draw attention to the potential harm?
How are they made?
In order to transform an animal hide into leather it has to pass through a tanning process before it can be sewn into a work glove. It’s at this stage that the collagen fibres within the hide are attacked by chemicals such as Chromium and tannins.?
It is estimated that chrome tanning accounts for some 90% of tanning production in the United States and approximately 80% worldwide. Why? It’s simple. Leather produced using this method (chrome) produces leather that is softer, more pliable, possesses a higher stability to thermal properties and water. It also takes significantly less time versus the vegetable tanning method, making it the method of choice to maximise production and profit.
Chromium and the human body
As a result of the way the Chromium binds the collagen fibres there is, according to the studies cited earlier in this article, inevitably some residual Chromium contained in the leather fibres of the hide, and consequently in leather gloves. This will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; however, it is estimated to be four to five percent that is left in the glove. The most likely adverse effect to humans appears to be contact dermatitis.
Chromium is one of the most common contact sensitisers in males within industrialised countries. Dermal exposure to Chromium has been demonstrated to produce allergic and irritant contact dermatitis. Irritant dermatitis is caused by the direct cytotoxic properties of Chromium, and allergic contact is an inflammatory response controlled by the immune system.
Allergic dermatitis associated with Chromium is characterised by swelling, papules, dryness, scaling and fissuring.
What should you do?
If you stop using leather gloves and start using synthetic gloves, will everything be OK? The simple and direct answer to that is NO. You always need to check any glove you’re using, even if it is from one of the large manufacturers.
Extra attention should be given if you are evaluating leather and/or polyurethane (PU) gloves. This is not to say that all leather and PU gloves aren’t safe; however, given there are many cheap imports on the market you have to investigate as they are usually cheap because corners are cut in their manufacture.
What’s the problem with polyurethane gloves?
There are multiple issues in the manufacturing and use of the solvent-based polyurethane gloves relating to:
• The levels of water used in the manufacturing process to try and clean the DMF and THF off this contaminated glove – this is frequently dumped back into nature without any treatment
• The inhalation and skin contact with DMF and THF for the people working in the factories manufacturing these solvent-based polyurethane gloves
• The health effects for users of this type of glove – these relate not only to the direct skin contact where the glove covers the hand, but also to other parts of the body should DMF and THF become absorbed into the bloodstream
What does DMF and THF do to the human body?
The scientific evidence is inconclusive regarding the magnitude of the effect of DMF and THF on humans, as these gloves have only been used industrially for just over a decade. However, laboratory animal research can shed some cautionary light on guidelines for human usage, as exposure (to animals) has shown reproductive and fetal effects. When used on a regular and acute basis the absorption of DMF and THF through human skin may cause dermatological issues, liver problems, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
The risk of wearing contaminated gloves with high levels of DMF and THF over a standard working shift can be significant. If you use these types of gloves it is essential to take note that the necessary testing and safeguards are put into place to ensure the safe levels of parts per million (PPM). The safe limits are 10 PPM for people using the glove for eight hours and 20 PPM for uses of up to 15 minutes.
DMF and THF have the potential to be the next asbestos. Used extensively by manufacturers and builders, asbestos was deemed to be safe. However, asbestos destroyed the health of a lot of people, and many lost their lives due to the cancer-causing elements inherent in asbestos.
So what should you look for when choosing a glove?
Most of the larger gloves’ manufacturers have an environmental policy registered to the global ISO 14000 standard, which represents the core set of standards used in designing, implementing and managing an effective environmental management system. It’s a good indicator of their ‘green’ credentials, but how does this translate into the glove you use?
The new EU REACH directive, explained later, can be seen as the next level of safety. However, the most important label to look for is the Oeko-Tex® 100 standard that certifies the product to be ‘skin friendly’.
This standard was introduced at the beginning of the 1990s as a response to the needs of the general public for textiles which posed no risk to health. “Poison in textiles” and other negative headlines were widespread at this time, and indiscriminately branded all chemicals across the board used in textile manufacturing as negative, and dangerous to health.
Up until the introduction of the Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 there was no reliable product label for consumers to assess the human ecological quality of textiles, nor a uniform safety standard for companies within the textile and clothing industry which enabled a practical assessment of potential harmful substances in textile products. The Austrian Textile Research Institute (ÖTI) and the German Research Institute Hohenstein therefore jointly developed the Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 on the basis of their existing test standards.
The testing and certification system of the Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 satisfies the many and varied requirements consumers make of modern textile products and at the same time takes into account the complex production conditions in the textile industry. The key objectives of Oeko-Tex® are:
• Manufacturing textile products of all types that are harmless to humans
• Simplifying and accelerating terms of delivery for manufacturers and retailers who wish to offer their customers textile products which pose no risk whatsoever to health
• A reliable product label for consumers who specifically aim to buy textiles which are harmless to their health
“Confidence in textiles” has been the motto of the independent test institutes of the International Oeko-Tex® Association since 1992. The philosophy and standard has found its way into the glove business, with companies such as Marigold-Comasec® and Uvex® certifying some gloves within their product range. ATG® goes further by certifying all their proRange® products to the Oeko-Tex 100 standard making it the only? manufacturer within the glove business to have a full ‘skin friendly’ range.
‘Skin friendly’ products carry the Oeko-Tex® confidence in textiles logo, which not only defines stringent threshold values for heavy metals such as chrome, nickel and mercury, but also assesses the use of carcinogenic and allergenic dyes and solvents such as formaldehyde. So Oeko-Tex® affords the end user the security that the glove is safe when they come into contact with it; however, what happens once they start using the glove? Is there something to protect? Yes there is – and it is called Sanitized®.
This is a product that has been around for a long time and used in many products to maximise freshness, comfort and protection by eliminating bacteria build up during and after use. As Sanitized® withstands the laundering process there are also many companies that use this to ensure that gloves are clean and suitable for re-use.
There are ongoing discussions as to whether Sanitized® is safe given the inclusion of a hygiene chemical called triclosan. This has been commonly used in products such as toothpaste, deodorants and perfumes for decades. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans; however, several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient, meriting further review.
In response to this Sanitized® launched a range of triclosan free products, so if you are in any doubt and want to use Sanitized® in your gloves, then look for a triclosan free option. Your glove supplier will be able to advise you.
Sanitized® (triclosan free) and Oeko-Tex® seem to have the answers as far as consumer safety and hygiene is concerned, but what guarantees? are there for the protection of the people, aside from PPE, who make the gloves at the factory? How can the REACH® help?
The REACH® directive
This is a new European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (EC 1907/2006). It deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of CHemical substances. This new law entered into force on June 1, 2007.
This regulation gives greater responsibility to industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. Manufacturers and importers will be required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances, which will allow their safe handling, and to register the information in a central database run by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki.
The agency will act as the central point in the REACH® system: it will manage the databases necessary to operate the system, coordinate the in depth evaluation of suspicious chemicals and run a public database in which consumers and professionals can find hazard information. This regulation also calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals when suitable alternatives have been identified.
One of the main reasons for developing and adopting the REACH® regulation was that a large number of substances have been manufactured and placed on the market for many years, sometimes in very high amounts, and yet there is insufficient information on the hazards they pose to human health and the environment.
There is a need to fill these information gaps to ensure that industry is able to assess hazards and risks of the substances, and to identify and implement the risk management measures to protect humans and the environment. Within the gloves business, ATG has been an early adopter and is now fully compliant across all its manufacturing operations.
Is there more the authorities can do to increase glove cleanliness?
The directive for personal protective equipment, directive 89/686/EEC, which belongs to a family of directives under article 114, is the directive intended to harmonise products ensuring a high level of protection for citizens and free circulation throughout Europe.
The current revision of this directive for PPE, foreseen to be launched in 2013, is an opportunity to move further in the right direction by adding the Oeko-Tex® 100 standard and to integrate the 18th amendment of the Consumer Goods Ordinance in Germany.
Promising steps in Germany
On August 13, 2010, the 18th amendment of the Consumer Goods Ordinance in Germany came into force, which requires the elimination of Chromium (VI) from all consumer goods made of leather which are intended for more than temporary contact with the skin, e.g. gloves. However, changes in legislation can take several years, so what should one do right now when evaluating and choosing a glove??
Here is a short list of things you have to check when you are considering a new glove and/or evaluating the safety of your current gloves in relation to contact with human skin:
• The more intensively skin comes into contact with a product, the stricter the product requirements have to be. The easiest, quickest and safest way to ensure that a glove is safe is to look for the Oeko-Tex® label. This is a worldwide, commonly accepted standard within the textile industry. Oeko-Tex® not only defines stringent threshold values for heavy metals such as chrome, nickel and mercury, but also assesses the use of carcinogenic and allergenic dyes and solvents such as formaldehyde
• The numbers suggest that it is best to stay away from leather. If you need leather then ask for a guarantee that there is no Chromium content. The claims have to be backed up by an independent lab test, and don’t forget to ask for the test report number so you can check it for yourself if you are at all unsure. In Germany this is now a legal requirement – the 18th amendment of the Consumer Goods Ordinance in Germany
• If you need to use PU gloves check the parts per million content of DMF and THF. The safe limit is 10 PPM for those using gloves for up to eight hours per day and 20 PPM for uses of up to 15 minutes. This information will generally not be provided by the salesperson, so contact the manufacturer’s technical department
• Sanitized® is a great product for minimising the effects of bacteria and odour build up in your gloves. As there are increasing studies suggesting that triclosan is not safe, ask your supplier, assuming Sanitized® is used, if it is triclosan free
Who can make it easy for me?
There are three large companies that have the Oeko-Tex® philosophy in the development, manufacturing and management of their gloves’ portfolio.
• ATG® (Advanced Technology Gloves®) have a range of gloves for professional (proRange®) that are fully Oeko-Tex® certified and use a Sanitized® (triclosan free) compound. MaxiFlex® has become the world standard in precision handling gloves (Oeko-Tex® certified and REACH® complaint). More information can be found at www.atg-glovesolutions.com
• Comasec® / Marigold® is one of the large and well respected names within the glove industry and is committed to the Oeko-Tex® programme. More information can be found on their corporate website: www.comasec.com/en/technical-data/expert-information_78,676.aspx
• Uvex® is best known for their involvement in safety glasses and sporting events, and offers a range of gloves certified to the Oeko-Tex standard®. See www.uvex.co.uk for more information
David Staniforth has more than 15 years of experience in sales, business development, key account management and marketing at the operational and strategic levels. He is currently Global Marketing Director at ATG.
He began his career at Nestle and subsequently moved into product management for Ansell. His innovation and creativity led Ansell to develop the HyFlexTM concept, a major global brand. His final contribution at Ansell was establishing and running the end user consulting division which Frost and Sullivan recognised with the European Customer Excellence award.
He is active with the Charted Institute of Marketing (CIM) and is a fellow of the Asian Institute of Technology. He has lectured at Liverpool Business School, at CIM on overcoming global business challenges, and has spoken at numerous health and safety events. He has also written for many of the respected international health and safety press.
David combined work and study to earn his MBA with the Open University and has a first class BA honours degree from Liverpool Business School. He can be reached at +32 495 120 515.
Published: 10th Sep 2011 in Health and Safety International