We can do the most incredible things with our hands: from performing microsurgery to producing the finest art or building huge super tankers – and many people look after their finest tools as a matter of course.

This article details the legislation in place to assist both employers and employees in identifying and selecting the appropriate gloves for manual tasks.

A standard for gloves

Essentially, all gloves supplied as personal protection equipment must fulfil the requirements listed in EU Directive 89/686 EEC and EN 420. According to EU Directive 89/686 EEC, work gloves are split into three categories depending on the hazards against which they are designed to protect the wearer.

Category 1: Gloves in this category are designed to protect against ‘minimal risk’ and may only be used in situations where no serious/lasting injuries may arise. Examples include normal cleaning, gardening work and contact with components which do not expose the user to a temperature exceeding 50°C.

Category 2: Includes gloves designed to protect the wearer against greater risk, such as industrial work of a cruder nature. Gloves in this category must be tested and approved by an independent inspection body. The gloves must be labelled with a pictogram showing their designated protective function.

Category 3: Includes gloves designed for use in high risk situations, for instance those designed to protect the wearer against aggressive chemicals. In addition to the requirements listed under Category 2, these gloves are subject to ongoing production and quality control checks.

EN 420 lists the general requirements placed on work gloves:

• The pH value must be neutral • Chrome-content of leather gloves • Gloves sized in accordance with standard • Labelling of gloves and packaging • Design and documentation?

The CE mark indicates that the gloves fulfil the requirements set out in EN 420.

EN 388 describes the ability of the gloves to protect against mechanical hazards (1 being low), and includes tests for: • Resistance to abrasion (performance level 1-4) • Blade cut resistance (performance level 1-5) • Tear resistance (performance level 1-4) • Puncture resistance (performance level 1-4)

Glove materials

The best manufacturers aim to be at the forefront of developments in work glove design. As a result, great demands are imposed on suppliers regarding innovative design, choice of materials and quality.

The fit, the size and the choice of materials are three vital criteria when it comes to choosing the right glove, and it is important to be familiar with the advantages offered by the various materials in order to make the right choice.

Natural products

Leather, or grain leather as it is also known, is the top side of the hide. It is soft, hard-wearing and able to withstand temperatures of up to 75°C. It is a natural material which adapts to the ambient temperature and allows the skin to breathe.

Split leather, which is sometimes known as suede, is the bottom side of the hide. It is not quite as hard-wearing, but it is capable of withstanding higher temperatures and repels embers more effectively. With subsequent processing, split leather can be made to withstand temperatures of up to 300°C and become water repellent. It is therefore often used for welding gloves and other products designed for welding protection.

Cowhide is extremely hard-wearing and tear-proof, and is therefore often used for strong all-round gloves where great abrasion resistance is essential.

Pigskin is one of the materials most commonly used for gloves – partly because the leather ‘breathes’ better than cowhide, and partly because it has traditionally been far less expensive than cowhide.

Goatskin is a very flexible and hard-wearing material, and is therefore typically used for assembly and TIG welding gloves.

Whatever the type of leather, the tanning and processing are all-important for the final quality of the glove.

Man made materials

Microfibre is a term used to describe a material in which two different types of polyester are combined and drawn into extremely fine filaments and pressed together to create a so-called ‘non-woven fabric’ which, to a limited extent, imitates the structure and properties of natural leather. As with many other manufactured items, the quality of the resulting product can vary depending on the specific manufacturer. Generally speaking, however, microfibre gloves offer the following advantages/properties when compared with leather or split leather of the equivalent thickness:

• Homogeneity – no variation in the thickness and appearance of the material • Washable at low temperatures • Extremely flexible, even at low temperatures • Guaranteed chrome-free

Butyl rubber is a relatively expensive mixed material which provides excellent protection against a range of substances in the groups of ketones, esters and amines.

Latex is a natural rubber which is highly heat-resistant and protects against a number of acids and bases.

Neoprene is a synthetic material which is about as flexible as natural rubber, but far more resistant to sunlight. It offers excellent protection against a number of acids, alcohols and oil products.

Nitrile is a synthetic rubber (Nitrile Butadiene Rubber), which is often used for dipped gloves because of its abrasion resistance. NBR gloves also offer excellent protection against many chemicals.

PE (polyethylene) is typically used for inexpensive disposable gloves, and should not be used for gloves designed to offer chemical protection.

PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) offers good protection against organic solvents, but no resistance against water or water-based solutions.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) gloves are available in a large number of variants and are commonly known as vinyl gloves. They provide a certain degree of protection against a number of acids and bases.

It is important to note that none of these can be used as a universal material offering protection against all solvents/chemicals. So, that is a brief insight into the technical aspects on standards and materials for gloves.?

Minimising risk

Now, let’s turn our attention to what can be done to ensure that hands are protected from work-based risks. A risk assessment of the task or activity should be undertaken with the purpose of identifying and understanding the specific risks involved.

Is there an alternative way of undertaking the task to remove or reduce the need to place hands and fingers at risk? Always remember that gloves are the last line of defence; they give added protection where there is no alternative.

Obvious risks are protection from impacts, cuts or abrasions, temperature extremes and contamination from foreign substances.

The fit of the glove is of significant importance, as an ill-fitting glove can increase the risk to the user through lack of feel and grip security. For instance, when using machinery, loose gloves could be caught, dramatically increasing the risk to the operator. Tight fitting gloves can increase hand fatigue and are less likely to be worn if they are uncomfortable.

There is always a trade off between feel and dexterity and the thickness of the glove. For instance, surgeons need to retain all of their dexterity and feel when performing complex operations. The key considerations are sterility and personal protection from bio-hazards. There is obviously a cut risk from the scalpel and other sharp instruments. Expecting a surgeon to operate using a cut level five glove, however, is unrealistic due to the additional risk this would add to the task through a reduction in dexterity and feel.

In contrast, foundry workers require protection from extreme heat. Gloves for this type of work are very thick and robust, are treated with fire retardants and contain several layers of material. Dexterity is very limited as the primary risk is protection from burns.

It is essential that the workforce is given sufficient knowledge about glove choice, and understand the different styles and types of glove available. This will help to ensure that they choose the right glove for the job every time. This approach will improve safety and help to reduce work related incidents, increase operator comfort and reduce fatigue.

Assessing the correct gloves for the task at hand

Is the glove appropriate for the risks involved and the conditions at the work site? For example, you would not use a vinyl glove to protect against welding as it is not a heat resistant glove.

• Do the gloves prevent or adequately control the risks involved without increasing the overall level of risk?

If required for intricate tasks, do they impede manual dexterity?

• Can the gloves be adjusted to fit correctly? One size fits all is not an option in an industrial/workplace situation. Gloves should fit correctly otherwise they themselves can introduce increased risk to the user. Choose gloves that fit well and assist with the task. Gloves can commonly be purchased in sizes from6 through to 12, with specialist gloves being available in other sizes

• Has the state of health of those who will be wearing the gloves been taken into account? Does the user suffer any allergies? Skin allergies are becoming more common place; latex and chromium allergies are two widely known conditions to be aware of

• What are the needs of the job and the demands they place on the wearer? How long does the PPE need to be worn and what physical effort does the job require? What is the best protection for cold store operatives or outdoor workers in the winter months – thermal gloves? Should anti-vibration gloves be considered for pneumatic tool operators? Each job should be assessed individually and the appropriate PPE specified.

• If more than one item of PPE is being worn, are they compatible? For example, wearing a disposable glove underneath a leather glove. Is there a more suitable alternative available that addresses the need to do this?

While cost is an important consideration to those who purchase PPE, selecting effective protection is far more important than securing the cheapest price.

Total value must be considered when making purchasing decisions and not just the raw cost, as the cheapest product is not always the most economical.

The research and development investment in innovating and improving glove technology is considerable. The UK lags a long way behind Europe, (Germany in particular) with its approach to gloves, their performance and how they are used. Gloves are often worn because they have to be, not because workers want to wear them.

Glove use should enhance and not impede the task at hand. So remember, select the correct glove for the task, ensure it is available in different sizes to guarantee good fit, and buy based on good value, which will provide savings through improved performance and durability.

Author Details:

Mark Poppleton is a Director of BTS Group Ltd and heads up OX-ON sales and marketing activity, covering the UK from its base in Needham Market, Suffolk.

Mark started in engineering in the late eighties working for Paxman Diesels, part of the GEC group of companies and progressed from hands on mechanical engineering into junior management. In the mid nineties Mark moved into sales and marketing for Ransomes Sims & Jefferies, and progressed from product sales and demonstrations to Singapore-based Area Sales Manager for the Pacific Rim. During his last four years at Ransomes, Mark was an Inventory and

Warehouse Manager in the Service Parts Department. Since 2005, Mark has headed up procurement and retail activity at BTS Group. Having recognised the need for high quality and effective PPE solutions, he has been championing the benefits of the OX-ON range to both industrial and retail markets. OX-ON, a Danish company, has been highly supportive of the expansion in to the UK, providing training and marketing investment to educate the market. The OX-ON industrial product line-up boasts not only gloves but eye, ear, head, respiratory and footwear protection.

About BTS Group

Founded in 1993 as Broadleaf Tree Specialists, the BTS Group has grown dynamically and now employs more than 200 staff.

BTS Group is a leading utility contractor offering vegetation management, overhead line maintenance and construction, including Hot Glove work.

BTS Group has now expanded its product range to include the OX-ON brand of gloves for industrial, commercial and gardening uses. OX-ON is one of the leading brands of PPE in Denmark and Germany and has been manufacturing and selling gloves and associated PPE to industry for nearly 30 years.

BTS Group supplies to the automotive trade, waste recycling and landfill operators, Arboricultural contractors, the scaffolding, roofing and construction industry and testing laboratories.

BTS Group holds accreditations to the three International standards ISO 9001:2000 the quality management standard,

ISO 14001:2004 the environmental management standard and OHSAS 18001:1999 the health and safety management standard and has recently been recognised as Committed to Excellence by the EFQM. These standards are seen by many procurers as prerequisites to working with their contractors and suppliers.

For more information log on to: www.btsgroupuk.com www.osedirectory.com/health-and-safety.php

Published: 01st Apr 2011 in Health and Safety International