Workplace Solutions Hand/arm protection

Single-use gloves

My workers need barrier protection. Are single-use gloves tough enough?


Responding is Joe Kubicek, president of the health care global business unit, Ansell, Iselin, NJ.

If there is a race in the arena of single-use hand protection, it’s in the relentless pursuit of thinner gloves. And why not? Most single-use applications require high levels of dexterity, and thinner gloves typically enable more precise movement and reduce hand fatigue – an enemy of dexterity. The challenge for glove manufacturers is ensuring these thinner gloves still provide the protection needed – which has led to innovation in more robust single-use glove offerings.

Make no mistake: Protection matters. More than 1 million workers go to the emergency room with a hand injury each year, with about 10 percent resulting in lost time, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average claim associated with a hand injury is $6,000, and the average workers’ compensation claim is $7,500, according to 2014 National Safety Council injury data. With that in mind, is it possible to push the boundaries of second skin-like materials and still deliver adequate hand protection?

The answer, increasingly, is “Yes.” Innovation in the field has led to advanced materials and single-use gloves that deliver protection from a variety of chemicals, barrier protection even in the event of prolonged liquid exposure, and extended wear time without rips and tears. The key, as with any type of hand protection, is to choose the right glove for the job and application. That choice starts with a hazard assessment that evaluates the various risks in a workplace.

If workers are facing chemical exposure – anything from cleaning solvents to hydraulic fluids to chemicals common in cleanroom environments – it’s important to read the labels and Safety Data Sheets to understand exactly what kinds of chemicals are present. Different gloves protect against different chemicals. Beyond that, what is the expected level of exposure? Does it require sustained protection or simply splash protection? The answers to these questions will determine the right glove that will stand up to the specific task at hand.

Of course, chemicals are only one potential risk in single-use environments. Rips, tears and punctures can compromise the protection the gloves afford and put workers at risk of exposure to hazardous materials. This is a common criticism of thinner gloves, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Today’s advanced material science can facilitate the production of heavier weight gloves with higher tensile strength and force-at-break values that will deliver second skin-like performance and robust protection against rips and tears.

Another area of concern is simply the quality of the glove. Even the most responsible manufacturers see defects in some small percentage of their products. With single-use gloves, these typically take the form of tiny pinholes. The industry measure for defects is called the Acceptable Quality Limit. For industrial single-use gloves, AQL levels range from 4.0 – meaning up to 4 percent of sets of gloves could include a defect – to the current industry best in class of 0.4. That’s a significant difference – 10 times better! For a worker, what matters is the likelihood of pulling a defective glove from a box, and the lower the AQL, the higher the protection quality. Quality matters, and lower AQLs bring peace of mind when it comes to trustworthy barrier protection.

Today’s workers can expect – and demand – high-quality single-use gloves that stand up to the task at hand and deliver robust protection from the risks of their workplace without compromising comfort or performance.

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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