Gloves were invented as far back as ancient Egypt, they had no thumb or finger holes but looked more like a pocket, they were used to protect the hands of noble women and were also used as a status symbol by the Pharaohs.
The pocket like glove then evolved into what we would consider a mitten (with a thumb hole.)
Gloves with fingers made from silk were later used as a status symbol of the rich and powerful. They were used to protect hands and keep them soft and were also used when eating to stop the hands from getting dirty.
Today gloves are used for a variety of reasons and within Health and Safety law they come under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
Most health and safety professionals recognise that personal protective equipment (PPE), i.e. gloves, should always be used as a last resort if you follow the general principles of prevention set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (Schedule 1), however, personal protective equipment plays an important role in employee health and safety. The most effective and reliable way to prevent skin problems is to design and operate processes to avoid contact with harmful substances. So, take all the steps you can to achieve this before resorting to the use of protective gloves.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 set out when and how protective equipment should be provided and has regulations detailing the requirement for the compatibility of the equipment. Under Regulation 6, an assessment should always be made where personal protective equipment is proposed to be used to ensure that it is adequate for the intended use.
It is common to see circumstances where gloves are required, that the cheapest or most attractive gloves are purchased with little consideration of their suitability for the task.
Gloves may be needed for protection against a number of hazards including mechanical risks, heat or cold, chemical or biological risks, and fire or electrical risks.
Gloves for Harmful Substances
Gloves used as PPE tend to be less effective than other control measures, but if avoiding contact is not practical or is not enough to protect your employees, then gloves may be needed. When an employer selects protective gloves, they should base their choice on the work, the wearer and the environment they work in. Employers need to consider the following five things:
- What substances are handled?
- What other hazards are present?
- Think about the type and duration of contact
- Consider the user – size and comfort
- Consider the task
What Substances are Handled?
The wide range of gloves available differ in design, material and thickness. In terms of chemicals, no glove material will protect against all substances and no gloves will protect against a specific substance forever.
Waterproof Gloves/’Wet Work’
If you do the washing up, you may know that prolonged or frequent contact with water, particularly in combination with soaps and detergents, can cause dermatitis. ‘Wet work’ is the term used to describe tasks in the workplace that can cause this. To protect the hands from ‘wet work’ choose a glove that meets the European Standard EN374-2. This shows that the gloves are waterproof.
Substances in products, created by work processes and ‘natural’ substances.
Substances in Products
Some products contain substances that can harm the skin or enter the body through skin contact. The product label or safety data sheet (SDS) should tell you if this is the case (such as those above). The Safety Data sheet should also give information on what protective gloves to use. If this is not detailed, then you should contact the product supplier or manufacturer for help.
Produced and ‘Natural’ Substances
Not all harmful substances come in labelled packaging. Harmful substances are also generated by work activities (e.g. solder fumes and wood dust). Also, handling some ‘natural’ substances like foods and flowers can cause skin problems too. You should carry out a COSHH assessment for all these activities. (COSHH is the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and these regulations require a risk assessment before working with hazardous substances). If you are unsure if a substance produced by a work process or a natural substance you are handling is harmful, you can get help from a variety of sources, such as trade associations or the HSE website.
To protect hands from substances/chemicals choose a glove that meets the European Standard EN374-3. Make sure the glove material you choose protects against the substances being handled.
Charts are provided by glove manufacturers to show how well their gloves perform against different substances. Glove manufacturers use three key terms, breakthrough time, permeation rate and degradation:
- Breakthrough time is the time a chemical takes to permeate through the glove material and reach the inside.
- Permeation is a process by which a chemical can pass through a material without going through pinholes or pores or other visible openings. This tells you how long you can use a glove for. The permeation rate is the amount that then permeates through. The higher the rate the more of the chemical will move through the glove material. You should always choose a low rate.
- Some chemicals can destroy the glove material. The material may soften, get harder, or may swell. Degradation indicates the deterioration of the glove material on contact with a specific chemical. You should choose gloves with an excellent or good degradation rating.
Manufacturers’ charts help identify the best gloves for the chemicals being used.
The performance of glove materials can vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.
“comfortable gloves are more likely to be worn. It is advisable to involve employees in the selection process”
You should also keep in mind that the manufacturers’ data is for single chemicals, not mixtures. If you mix chemicals, then their properties can change. You should base your glove selection on the component in the mixture with the shortest breakthrough time. However, the only way to be absolutely sure that a glove performs well against the mixture is to have it tested.
Everybody’s different and some people can develop an allergy to gloves made of natural rubber latex. It is actually fairly common. To prevent this, choose non-latex gloves unless there are no alternatives that give the protection needed. Should you need to use latex, choose low-protein, powder-free gloves.
Identify all Other Hazards
Chemicals are not the only hazard that you may need to protect against, and as mentioned above, you should identify any other hazards present. Are there risks from abrasion, cuts, puncture or high temperature? There are chemical protective gloves that also give protection against mechanical hazards (those marked EN388) and thermal hazards (those marked EN407).
There are also gloves that specifically protect against these risks.
Contact Type and Duration
Employers should consider how long gloves are likely to be worn for. Will gloves be worn for short periods or intermittently, or for longer periods of time? Where someone is wearing gloves for a longer period, comfort is more important. Thinner gloves offer better dexterity, but thicker gloves offer greater protection than thinner gloves in most cases.
Will contact with hazardous substances be from occasional splashes, or will the hands be totally immersed? Gauntlet length gloves should be considered for where hands are totally immersed (where this is unavoidable) but short gloves are fine to protect against splashes.
It Should Fit Like a Glove
Like those snow dampened mittens we had as children, ill-fitting gloves are unlikely to be worn. Gloves should correctly fit the wearer. Tight gloves can make hands feel tired and lose their grip. Where gloves are too large, this can create folds; these can impair work and be uncomfortable. It can help to use sizing charts.
Comfortable gloves are more likely to be worn. It is advisable to involve employees in the selection process and give them a reasonable choice to pick from. This can sometimes promote buy-in to wearing them.
Hands can sweat inside gloves making them uncomfortable to wear. Glove breaks are good practice, where getting staff to remove gloves for a minute or so before hands get too hot and sweaty, can help air the hands. Another tip to consider is supplying separate cotton gloves to wear under protective gloves. These can absorb sweat, therefore increasing comfort. Cotton gloves can be laundered and reused.
Your risk assessment of the task should consider what type of gloves are required. Gloves should not hamper the task. If wet/oily objects are handled, you should choose gloves with a roughened/textured surface for good grip. Selected gloves should balance protection with dexterity. Ensure the gloves selected meet any standards required for the task, e.g. sterile gloves, food grade gloves. Consider whether colour is important, e.g. to identify contamination.
Once you have selected your gloves, show your employees how to use them properly to protect themselves. They should also be informed on how to remove them correctly to avoid being contaminated or coming in to contact with the hazardous substance. Employers should tell them when they should be replaced, and if they are reusable gloves ask them to rinse them before removal (if practical) and tell them how they should be stored. All training on the use of PPE should be recorded. A good Health and Safety Management programme will review their use periodically and get employee feedback, this can help ensure that the gloves are performing properly.
Picking the Right Glove
What do the symbols mean for EN388? The code below the EN388 symbols details the level of performance of the glove under the following tests. The tests under EN388 are abrasion resistance, cut resistance, tear resistance, puncture resistance and the more recent cut resistance (to ENISO 13997) and impact protection (tested to EN13594).
There are times when wearing safety gloves can increase risk of injury. This is primarily when working around rotating machinery. Gloves of any kind should not be worn when operating drills, lathes or other forms or machinery that can draw in and cause entanglement in a machine. There are a number of accidents that have been caused by such.
“ensure that gloves do not present a risk of entanglement with moving parts of machinery.”
Care should be taken when considering anti-vibration gloves. Gloves marketed as “anti-vibration”, which aim to isolate the wearer’s hands from the effects of vibration, are available commercially. There are a number of different types, but many are only suitable for certain tasks. They are not particularly effective at reducing the frequency-weighted vibration associated with risk of HAVS and they can increase the vibration at some frequencies. It is not usually possible to assess the vibration reduction provided in use by anti-vibration gloves, so you should not generally rely on them to provide protection from vibration.
However, gloves and other warm clothing can be useful to protect vibration-exposed workers from cold, helping to maintain circulation. (More than one set may be required for each employee if the gloves or clothing are likely to become wet.) Gloves and other clothing should be assessed for good fit and for effectiveness in keeping the hands and body warm and dry in the working environment. You should also ensure that gloves or other clothing you provide do not stop employees working safely and do not present a risk of entanglement with moving parts of machinery.