Maintaining reliable hand protection

What factors can deteriorate work gloves?

Answered by Alex Marks, director of hand protection, North Safety Products, Cranston, RI.

All elastomers degrade over a period of time. The rate at which this degradation takes place is determined by many factors, some of which are controlled by the manufacturer and others by the user.

Different types of elastomers have different aging characteristics. This is determined by the chemical structure of the polymer and anti-degrading additives. Natural rubber is very flexible and strong, making it ideal for hand protection, but has poor aging properties compared with other elastomers. Hypalon has good resistance to ozone, a reactive form of oxygen, but only fair heat resistance. There are always trade-offs regarding glove materials. End users should work with the manufacturer to find the best combination of properties for a particular situation.

Storage conditions are controlled by the user and play an important part in determining the useable life span of a glove. Before using new gloves, leave them in their original shipping box. Gloves should be kept flat without excessive folds or creases. During use, gloves easily can withstand stretching and bending for short periods; however, a sharp fold at the same spot for months will cause weakening and cracks on the surface.

Environmental factors

Several preventable factors can cause noticeable damage to gloves. Ozone causes small cuts in the surface of rubber products. When humidity is low and temperatures are high, rubber parts are put under physical stress. Good ventilation and removing sources of ozone are key to preventing this problem.

Ultraviolet light also accelerates the degradation of elastomers. Storing gloves in their original box is the recommended way to avoid this common problem.

Extreme temperatures can cause problems for different reasons. Low temperatures stiffen elastomers and can contribute to cracking. High temperatures accelerate the aging process, resulting in loss of physical strength. The recommended storage temperature for gloves is 64.4-80.6° F.

Gloves are designed differently for maximum user protection. They can withstand harsh environments and abuse. Following proper storage methods will extend the life span of any glove.

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