Workplace Solutions Hand/arm protection

Disposable gloves: Good for industrial applications?

How effective are disposable gloves for industrial applications?

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Responding is Anthony Di Giovanni, vice president of global marketing, Protective Industrial Products Inc., Latham, NY.

Answer: Many current studies related to the global safety market highlight how disposable gloves account for a growing share of glove consumption. One research document boldly professes that “disposable gloves are durable and used for high performance in manufacturing.” I believe this is a perilous oversimplification.

Disposable gloves typically are 4 to 8 millimeters thick and, regardless of the material – latex or nitrile – they can’t really stand up to heavy-duty industrial use. Yet, we see more and more workers opting for the convenience of disposable gloves for completing daily tasks. This trend is worth addressing.

First, although convenient and abundant, disposable gloves aren’t environmentally friendly because they aren’t easy to recycle. They aren’t operationally efficient for multiple uses, either. Attempting to put on a previously worn – perhaps sweaty – disposable glove is next to impossible. The choice of tossing it and grabbing a fresh pair is easier, faster and convenient. The result is an excessive amount of waste.

Second, disposable gloves were not developed for industrial applications. They’re too thin, have insufficient grip and have a tendency to snag easily. If one opts for thicker versions of disposable gloves, dexterity is exceedingly reduced and the effort required to flex the hand against the inherent elastic properties of the polymer only results in excess hand fatigue. Choosing to remain in the 4- to 6-millimeters range means the glove will not last. Thus, the payoff is low either way.

Third, I’m concerned about seeing way too many hands nestled in sweaty disposable gloves. This is very uncomfortable, but is discomfort the only issue? Just as we get wrinkly toes and fingers when sitting in a long bath, our skin, which is the largest organ of our body, will suffer maceration. Although it’s a relatively harmless manifestation of excess moisture that typically will clear up quickly once the skin is exposed to fresh air and allowed to dry, long periods of maceration may leave the user vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infections. Undoubtedly, macerated skin becomes more susceptible to injury from rubbing or abrasion.

So, what’s the answer? It’s simple. Choose the right gloves for the job. Coated knit gloves with some level of cut protection should be considered for most industrial applications that include handling or assembling of parts. Fully coated polymer gloves are ideal for handling chemical liquids or powders. Leather or synthetic composite gloves are ideally suited for heavy-duty jobs.

Disposable gloves serve a purpose specifically when handling light materials or food items to prevent cross-contamination or direct contact with dirty or soiled items. They are not wear-resistant in industrial application and typically are not tested for specific chemical protection.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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