Get a grip on hand hazards

July 12, 2010
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According to Jeff Stauffer, vice president of Stauffer Glove and Safety, Inc., “We’ve seen the momentum of specialized work gloves grow over the past several years. There is a definite trend away from traditional leather and cotton work gloves toward gloves that offer specialized protection, better dexterity and better value.”

Stauffer’s own company, a 103-year-old Pennsylvania enterprise that started as a manufacturer of cotton work gloves, has witnessed the transition. Under fourth-generation family ownership, the company no longer manufactures cotton gloves and is now a distributor of all kinds of work gloves.

Today’s PPE glove market is filled with alternatives to traditional leather and cotton work gloves. Gloves knit of engineered yarns provide high levels of cut resistance. Polymer-coated cotton and nylon knit gloves now meet workforce needs for more flexible, longer-lasting gloves. Hi-vis colors, illuminated backs, ventilated backs, task-specific levels of coatings and specific sizing all work to make these gloves the up-and-coming gloves of choice for construction workers. Not only are these gloves more resilient and serviceable for more applications than traditional work gloves, they also have superior barrier properties and longer lasting coatings.

The technology

The specifics behind this trend to new-age gloves lie with technology.

“The technology in these new gloves provides better protection and yield along with better fit, lighter weight and task-specific features,” Stauffer says. He also says that because it is hard to change what has been accepted for years and because there are still some construction jobs for which leather is a viable choice, he believes leather will remain a contender.

Some of the chemicals used in leather glove curing may pose hazards to workers. Chromates, which are known sensitizers and carcinogens, have been used to cure leathers. These chemicals are not used in polymer-coated gloves. Most leather and cotton glove models are manufactured on a “few sizes fit all” basis, which makes fit a problem.

Manufacturers of polymer-coated gloves spend millions of dollars annually researching newer and better glove designs in sizes ranging from extra small to extra, extra large. Polymer coatings made from Natural Rubber Latex (NRL) or the synthetic polymers, Nitrile, Neoprene, PVC or Polyurethane, have come into their own in the past few years. These lighter-weight, ergonomic glove designs allow workers to keep wearing gloves while performing tasks that require more accurate feel and finer dexterity — tasks that yesteryear’s workers often performed “gloveless.”

In addition, today’s technology produces polymeric gloves with length-of-wear times two to ten times longer than those of leather and cotton gloves. Some flat-dipped gloves even have an extra layer of polymer in stress areas such as the thumb crotch between the thumb and first finger. Polyurethane-coated nylon or HPPE gloves offer very durable coatings that are super lightweight and comfortable.

Wear the right glove

Polymer coatings may be engineered to either absorb or repel oil or to serve as a barrier to chemicals that may irritate, burn or sensitize skin. Protection against chemicals is particularly important because some chemicals used on the worksite may be absorbed into the skin and may result in long-term chronic toxic effects from low-level exposure.

For example, caustic wet cement water can immediately penetrate cotton and leather gloves. On the other hand, a fully coated polymer glove offers excellent protection from exposure to caustic cement water and hexavalent chromium from Portland cement. This is important because hexavalent chromium is a potent skin sensitizer that causes dermatitis and debilitating chemical sensitization in workers whose skin is exposed to it.

More than 1.3 million workers in the construction trade are exposed to Portland cement and thousands more to cement dust. Skin conditions in the masonry industry are 2.5 times the national average. A study by the EPA and Johns Hopkins showed a very strong dose-response relationship for chromate exposure and the development of lung cancer. Another study by Mancuso showed that 23.3 percent, or almost one fourth, of the deaths of workers in a chromate plant since 1951 were from lung cancer. In addition, according to The National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts 2010,” there were nearly 49,000 new skin diseases or disorders for the construction industry reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Prevent lacerations

According to The National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts 2010,” its last survey (2007) lists for the construction industry 12,530 injuries to the fingers, 7,490 injuries to the hand excluding fingers and 3,770 injuries to the wrist. Gloves designed for cut resistance and oil absorbance are an excellent choice to reduce injuries from cuts and/or dropping parts. Protection from lacerations along with enhanced gripping action are a win-win. High performance fibers such as HPPE can be made even stronger by wrapping with stainless steel or fiberglass yarn for the highest cut resistance available. Sponge and foam Nitrile coatings offer the advantage of adding high durability to cut-resistant liners that could be worn out quickly in handling concrete blocks or bricks.

It should be noted that there is no cut-resistant glove that works for moving or serrated blades.

With new developments in glove technology, lack of dexterity or cumbersomeness can be a thing of the past. Reduction of hand injuries in the construction industry is everyone’s job. Non-leather hand protection products are designed to enhance safety, comfort and worker acceptance. The only missing ingredients are training and enforcement. Workers must be trained on the risks associated with the jobs they are performing and given the proper PPE to help reduce those risks. New-age gloves are here to make that happen.

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