Over half a million people in the U.S. each year get sent to the ER for hand injuries including cuts, burns, and skin diseases. Many of these injuries could have been prevented through job-appropriate hand PPE like safety gloves. A worker’s hands are one of the most essential tools on and off the job. They’re also very complex and difficult to repair after a serious workplace injury: an injured hand can experience a loss of motion, dexterity, and grip so severe that even simple tasks become near impossible to perform. Your hands do so much and are worth preserving for as long as possible, which is where work gloves, along with education and attention to risk and safety come in.
Protective gloves are exactly what they sound like—gloves that end at the wrist or elbow and are specially designed to protect workers from workplace hazards (and, in the case of sterile environments or those where fingerprints need to be avoided, protect products and processes from hands as well). Gloves are the most common type of workplace PPE, and as a result, there are many varieties of protective gloves for different work environments and hazards: cut resistance, puncture resistance, tear resistance, abrasion resistance, and extreme temperature resistance are some of the most common offerings on the market.
While no piece of PPE alone will guarantee total safety, gloves designed for your work environment and tasks will help minimize your chances of injury in the short and long term. There are so many different hazards on different job sites that your hands are exposed to. Extreme heat or cold, chemicals, impacts and vibrations, biohazards, sharp edges or points, electricity, repetitive motions and strain, fires and arc flashes, and abrasions are some of the worksite hazards that require specialized PPE to handle.
While certain jobs can make use of other hand or arm protection, such as finger guards or arm coverings like sleeve protectors, gloves are one of the most common protective options available and have a great variety for workers and employers to choose from. No matter what industry you’re in, from heat-resistant gloves to cold weather work gloves, there’s sure to be a pair of protective gloves that meets your needs.
The best protective gloves for you are the ones that best fit your job, and there are so many glove options available out there that you’re sure to find one that works for you. You’ll base this information on the activities you perform as part of your daily work as well as other infrequent responsibilities such as cleaning, as well as on the hazards present in your workplace. After all, while someone who works around a lot of caustic chemicals and someone who works on a construction site will both require hand protection; the specific gloves that they need will differ widely. That chemist will need something that can resist an array of chemical compounds and the construction worker would benefit more from impact-resistant gloves and cut and abrasion resistance glove options.
Before making a purchase, a hazard assessment of your workplace and the jobs performed there is necessary. Examine the tasks that workers perform, the conditions they perform those tasks under, how long they’re working, and any other hazards and potential hazards that might exist. Get employee feedback on their experiences, requirements, preferences, and possible barriers to using equipment. Remember any infrequently done tasks or non-routine operations that could still pose risks. Look in company documentation for accident records that could be used to discover other hazards and program weaknesses. Use the results of your assessment as the foundation for not only selecting PPE but also creating a robust training and management program for safety gloves and other equipment that will keep workers safe for many projects in the future.
When choosing your gloves, choose a pair that fits easily, is comfortable, helps you do your job (or at minimum doesn’t hinder you), and protects your hands and skin from harm. If you can get most of those requirements, great, but there are so many safety gloves available that you’re sure to find one that fits your job tasks perfectly. Talk to a PK Safety expert for recommendations if you’re not sure where to start. Whatever gloves you decide to pick, make sure that they’re inspected carefully before each use and disposed of if they’re too damaged for use.
The benefits of protecting your hands from injuries are obvious. Chemicals, cuts, lacerations, punctures, impacts, abrasions, electrical hazards, and thermal hazards are just some of the dangers that are encountered in many industries, although manufacturing and construction workers are particularly at risk for hand injuries. With appropriate safety gloves for the job, you can perform your job safely, which means no future pain or disability as a result of a workplace accident. Companies also enjoy that safety gloves protect them from disrupted production, legal costs, and a loss of morale in the workplace.
In addition to just being a good idea, people wear safety gloves because it’s required. OSHA requires employers to provide a reasonably safe place to work for workers whose jobs are hazardous, which can include providing PPE if it’s determined that a PPE program is necessary. Hand protection specifically is covered under OSHA standard 1910.138, which details conditions that require appropriate hand protection. Not following OSHA guidelines can result in hefty fines, so there are more reasons to wear gloves and encourage others to wear gloves than there are not to. As long as the gloves fit well and allow you to perform your work, it’s just a matter of pulling them on, punching in, and getting started.
Several materials that are used to make chemical-resistant gloves are available on the market, but not all materials are appropriate for all chemicals. Typically, chemical-resistant gloves are going to be made of various kinds of flexible rubber-like materials, and some will blend or laminate chemical-resistant gloves for better performance across all areas. While thicker gloves can offer more resistance to some truly dangerous industrial chemicals, it’s important to balance resistance with grip and dexterity because the ability to hold and manipulate your tools is important whereas not being able to do so could introduce new safety hazards.
Some materials also work better than others for different job hazards, if you’re going to face potential issues from work conditions beyond chemicals. Depending on your industry and job tasks, disposable gloves worn over other safety gloves could protect your hands as well as preserve the other pair of safety gloves.
Nitrile rubber is good for acids, bases, and solvents. Chlorinated solvents, as well as oils and greases, are also handled well. It has a high level of sensitivity, dexterity, and durability for your worksite needs. While it’s disposable, it can be worn more than once, which is a nice quality to have if you need a glove that’s reusable and won’t trigger latex allergies.
Neoprene is good for alcohols and gasoline and has a better chemical resistance than latex. It also has a higher density, better finger dexterity and pliability, and is more resistant to wear and tear than a lot of comparable gloves made from other materials.
Natural latex will protect from ketones and similar chemicals, salts, and diluted acids. Latex is a good choice if your job hazards include high temperatures or abrasions from grinding, polishing, and sandblasting. It has good elasticity and tensile strength, but it’s also a fairly common allergen, which could limit your workplace’s ability to use it (especially because OSHA banned powdered latex gloves in medical and industrial settings to avoid serious health complications across industries).
Butyl rubber offers protection from several types of chemicals from acids to rocket fuels. It also offers thermal and abrasive hazard resistance for jobs that face a variety of hazards outside of the chemical ones.
Regardless of your industry, there’s a glove out there that’s perfectly designed to keep your hands safe. If you have questions about the compatibility of the gloves you’re thinking of using on your worksite, consult a safety expert at PK Safety who can give recommendations based on our personal vetting and relevant industry experience.
While there are nearly as many safety gloves as there are jobs and hazards, and highly specialized or multipurpose gloves for some of those jobs, you can group them into four types based on the class of hazards they protect against.
Leather, canvas, and metal mesh gloves offer protection from cuts and burns. Rough objects, chips, abrasion, and blows are no problem for this class of gloves. In addition to cut protection, metal mesh gloves also protect against punctures.
Fabric and fabric-coated gloves also offer abrasion protection. Coated gloves are all-purpose and slip-resistant, making them ideal for household applications and job responsibilities that require needing a good grip on something.
Chemical and liquid-resistant gloves are made up of rubber or plastic and can stand up to industrial or other chemicals and liquids.
Insulating rubber gloves are electrical PPE designed for workers in industries where electrical hazards are a part of the regular job responsibilities. They, along with other insulated gear designed for electrical work, keep electricity from harming workers.
All of these categories have their own standards that they need to adhere to. There can also be some crossover between types of gloves and ways to get the benefits of two types of gloves: a liquid-resistant glove could offer abrasion protection and disposable liquid-resistant gloves can be worn over canvas gloves for comfort and dexterity while still remaining safe from chemical hazards. A fabric glove could be coated in a way that makes it more abrasion, cut, or puncture-resistant without sacrificing its other perks.
At PK Safety, we sell most of our gloves by the dozen, but some by the pair (and some in bulk, if you’re in the market for cotton safety gloves). Whether you’re working on a DIY project at home or as part of a large team on a construction site, or anywhere else for that matter, we can help you find the gloves that support your work.