Without our hands we would be severely limited with what we are able to do, it is partly our hands that set us apart from other animals too.
Hands are so important that they have even been the subject of some very famous songs such as Reef’s ‘Place Your Hands’, or even ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ by the Beatles. Everyone uses their hands every day, so it makes perfect sense to protect them!
Safety gloves are a great way to protect your hands, but they need to be carefully selected to ensure that they are suitable and that they will provide the right protection for the job at hand (no pun intended). A great example of this is surgical gloves. Anyone who has had any first aid training since the introduction of Nitrile gloves in the mid-90s will know that latex gloves are not a good choice for a first aid kit due to the possibility of a person having an allergic reaction to them. However, surgical gloves are still made of latex to allow the surgeon the most dexterity possible when operating. Nitrile, or other gloves, reduce the sensation of feeling and if a surgeon loses this sensation the consequences could be catastrophic for the patient. This is a great example of getting the right glove for the right job.
Gloves come under the category of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which means we need to give consideration to our risk assessment process and the residual risk that the hazards pose once all other controls are in place. As we have spoken about in other articles, PPE is only in place to manage this residual risk so shouldn’t be relied on solely for the protection of employees. The risk assessment process involves:
- Identifying the hazard
- Assessing who might be at risk and how they are at risk
- Assessing the risk that is posed
- Putting controls into place to manage this risk
- Reviewing the assessment
Often the risk assessment will have the use of gloves in as a control, but may not specify which gloves should be used. This means that whoever is responsible for sourcing that PPE needs to ensure that the gloves that are selected are suitable for the task. To properly assess which type of glove will be needed we need to understand what hazard the work process involves. Below, I am going to look at some different types of work, which gloves would be suitable and how they can be used, and I have also listed some of the types of hazards that these gloves will protect against to help you understand where your work might fit into this:
Hazards: dermatitis, infection, Legionnaires’ disease, Weil’s Disease.
When working with water or carrying out any wet work, the purpose of the glove is to provide a barrier to protect against the liquid itself, the soap/detergent (which may cause dermatitis or exacerbate existing skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis), or water born viruses such as Legionnaires’ disease (legionella bacteria can cause illness) or Weil’s disease (caused by rat or cattle urine in the water). The gloves we need don’t need any special rating to be able to provide this barrier, beyond being waterproof. Your standard “first aid glove” (a powder-free nitrile tightfitting glove) should be enough, but make sure that there are no tears or splits in these gloves before using them. Dispose of them safely too, so that everyone is protected from the contaminate/irritant/bacteria on the outside. Remember that these gloves are one use only – you shouldn’t try to re-wear gloves which you have taken off already.
In addition to wet works, give thought to how easily an object would be able to be held if it is wet (perhaps through water or even oil or another lubricant). You need to consider your grip in the glove. In these instances it is highly unlikely that your nitrile glove will be enough and more thought may need to be given to the selection of an appropriate glove.
Hazards: various hazards depending on the chemical or substance being used. Please refer to the COSHH assessment.
Often during the course of carrying out your work you will encounter chemicals. This is true of most workplaces, even those which are considered lower risk (such as an office) will have chemicals which are being used for cleaning (such as bleach) or printer toner – all of these need to be considered.
Earlier I mentioned risk assessments, where chemicals are concerned, we need think about assessments which are carried out under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. This information is vitally important for first-aiders and fire wardens in particular, but when it comes to selecting safety gloves for chemicals being used, this is also important information to have at hand.
Within this COSHH assessment, we can tell how this chemical could be dangerous. These signs are below:
The warning signs that we need to pay particular attention to are Toxic, Long-term health hazard, Danger to the environment and Corrosive. These are the substances which are going to be particularly harmful. The risk and COSHH assessments will clearly mark these and the selection of PPE needs to reflect this. This leads to some specific factors regarding hand protection that need to be considered. All of the below can be ascertained from the supplier or manufacturer of the PPE and should be easy to obtain.
European safety standards
Make sure that whichever glove you choose, it meets the European safety standard EN374-3. The European safety standards are not mandatory, but will help to ensure that the PPE you are buying is of a sufficiently high standard and will provide the protection that you are looking for.
Breakthrough time is one the three key factors that glove manufacturers will assess. Breakthrough time is, as the name suggests, the amount of time it takes for a chemical to pass through the glove. This is without any rips, tears or holes in the glove and allows the manufacturer to calculate the amount of time which the glove is effective for. This will be key for determining the type of glove. If your workers will need to wear this for a task likely to take eight hours, for example, and the breakthrough time of the glove is only four hours, you either need a different glove, or you need to build into the work process and procurement provision a glove change, doubling the number of gloves initially needed.
The permeation rate links directly to the breakthrough time. After the breakthrough time has been reached, the permeation rate is the volume of the chemical which gets through the glove and will make contact with the hand within. This is useful to know since for all chemicals covered by COSHH, there will be an exposure value which will let you know how much the worker can be exposed to before it is harmful. This comes from a document called EH40 (you can google it and have a look for more detailed information). Be careful with this though, I would always recommend getting a glove with the best breakthrough time possible since the best way to ensure that the chemical does not cause any issues is to ensure that it never comes into contact with skin directly. The lower the rate the better the glove.
The last of the big three factors which are used to ascertain the effectiveness. This measures the effect that the chemical has on the glove and how the properties of the glove change. This does not just include decaying the glove, or destroying it, but warping, blistering or any other physical change to the glove itself.
Degradation can be important as the breakthrough may not be met, but the integrity of the glove could be affected to the point where the glove is unsafe. The best degradation ratings are excellent or good.
Do keep in mind with this that the figures given relate to pure chemicals and that mixing chemicals may alter the breakthrough time, permeation rate and degradation rating.
“I always recommend getting a glove with the best breakthrough time”
Hazards: damage of nerves and blood vessels, which for hands, can lead to hand arm vibration, vibration white finger and carpal tunnel syndrome.
When looking at this it is very important to note that this is not the most effective way to manage vibration output for handheld tools. You should be considering elimination, technological controls (such as vibration reducing equipment) and administrative controls (such as risk assessment and monitoring use time) before even considering this. The reason that safety gloves can be useful for vibration tools is simply because they keep the hands warm. When the muscles and ligaments are warm, they are more relaxed and are therefore less likely to be damaged by the vibration caused by hand tools. When selecting gloves for this, grip must be considered as well as thermal insulation. Ensure that the glove fits well (explained more below) and that it allows the wearer to still safely grip and operate the tool.
Hazards: working in cold temperatures can increase the likelihood of strains and sprains, and skin contact on extremely cold items could cause freeze burns and damage to the skin.
Some workers are exposed to cold temperatures. This can include supermarket workers re-stocking frozen foods, or those working in refrigerated warehouses. There is no guidance for the minimum or maximum temperature in a workplace which means that there is unlikely to be a prescribed temperature in place for the type of work being carried out. This means that, as part of your risk assessment, you need to ensure that consideration is given to those working in cold environments (which could also include outdoor working in the winter). If you have workers who are working for prolonged periods, then consider providing gloves which do not impact on their ability to work safely.
Of course, when we think about temperature management we also need to think about hot works, for example those working in manufacturing or cooking. You need to be able to provide the correct protection for obvious reasons, protecting the worker predominantly against burns. When selecting safety gloves for this use, look for EN407 certification which will ensure that the glove is protecting against heat. Again, consideration needs to be given to the proper selection enabling safe working activity. For instance, it is no use providing a glove which makes it very hard to hold something hot, leading to it being dropped causing other problems in the workplace.
“PPE should always be supplied with instruction and training”
First aid/care/medical treatment
Hazards: contraction of disease or illness, particularly that which is spread through contact with bodily fluid.
Gloves selected for this work obviously need to be waterproof, but the larger concern here comes from the changing of gloves and their disposal. The glove is likely to protect the wearer, and in most cases, a standard nitrile glove will be more than adequate. The issue arises from the contact with the patient and the contamination of the glove. All PPE should always be supplied with instruction and training which, in this case, should also include how to remove them and dispose of them in a safe way, minimising the risk of spread of illness. When disposing of these, give consideration to sanitary disposal which can be achieved through the emergency services, sanitary waste bins (most accessible in ladies toilets) or through other safe means of disposal. More consideration needs to be given where there is care of multiple of patients to prevent the spread of disease from patient to patient.
One size fits all?
Put simply, one size fits all is never a good choice with PPE of any size, and gloves are no different. Even getting a range of sizes such as XS, S, M, L or XL is not always a good enough way to make sure that your workforce are properly catered for. When it comes to the selective issuing of PPE, you need to make sure that you have PPE which properly fits and does not impede on your workers ability to carry out the task safely. While this might seem like an arduous task, getting the input of your workers has a couple of key benefits. Firstly, it means that the PPE will do the best job possible at protecting the workforce, and secondly it will also mean that your workers are more likely to use the PPE as they have had a say in which PPE has been selected.
When we are looking at gloves specifically there are a couple of easy things, we can do to encourage the worker to wear the gloves to increase how comfortably the glove fits as much as possible.
Firstly, make sure that the gloves are not too tight, and are also not too loose. If gloves are too tight, they can lessen the grip and range of movement of the hand, the hands can become sweaty and tired. If they are too loose it can prevent safe working conditions as they can get caught in machinery and are more susceptible to getting caught which could rip or tear the glove. Secondly, if hands become sweaty or uncomfortable recommend that employees remove gloves to air hands when taking breaks. These simple steps can improve the wearing of PPE across the work force leading to better protection and compliance with your work force.
Maintenance of PPE
Alongside the issue of PPE we need to make sure that proper information, instruction and training is provided. Workers must know when you replace their gloves and how to clean them, or how to dispose of them properly (as we spoke about earlier).
The manufacturers guidance should always be followed in relation to the maintenance of the glove. Never re-use disposable or one-use only gloves.
“never re-use disposable or one use only gloves”
For workers who wear gloves for prolonged periods of time, make sure that employees have access to soap, warm water and other products which can help to clean and re-hydrate the skin. Workers who experience skin problems are less likely to wear the PPE since it will make their hands uncomfortable. This irritation can also make normal work activity uncomfortable which can lead to short cuts and unsafe working practices. Some workers may also suffer from skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis. Exacerbation of these conditions, whether well founded or perceived, will create a barrier to the use of the safety gloves.
This article gives quite a good overview of the things which should be considered when selecting safety gloves for your workforce to use. Even if we haven’t covered your exact workplace or the hazards that you face, hopefully this gives you enough of an idea to be able to successfully select and issue PPE to manage the residual risk that hazards in your workplace present.