Higher levels of hand protection

Five factors for choosing disposable nitrile gloves

April 2, 2012
Disposable gloves have evolved over the years from an 18th century medical accessory to a safety necessity in non-medical markets. Disposable glove technology has improved greatly to where gloves are thinner and more comfortable to wear but also offer the same or higher levels of hand protection.

Nitrile gloves

Nitrile has become the preferred synthetic alternative to natural rubber latex given the durability and protection it provides. While nitrile has only been around for 20 years, mass market adoption accelerated its use as the technology improved, making nitrile softer and less ‘synthetic’ to wear. Nitrile is becoming the material of choice for many end users because of its chemical resistance, puncture resistance, comfort, cost-competitiveness and cleanness, making it ideal for cleanroom gloves. The material also has static-dissipative properties, so it is ideal for the electronics industry. Nitrile is synthetic latex but with one fundamental difference: Nitrile gloves do not contain the latex proteins that cause allergic reactions. Price is not the only consideration when deciding to purchase nitrile disposable gloves. Consider these five key determining factors as well:

1) Tensile strength: Nitrile glove technology continues to make significant strides in tensile strength. Loosely defined, tensile strength is the amount of stress the glove material can handle before it breaks. Gloves are either tested for tensile strength according to EN-455-2 or the ASTM D6319 standards. The test results are then expressed in either MPa (megapascals) or PSI. Typically, higher tensile strength translates into higher durability. It is important to note that tensile strength testing is a static laboratory test and does not simulate real-world conditions. Therefore, only use tensile strength values as a guideline when evaluating the proper glove for the task at hand.

2) Thickness: When nitrile disposable gloves first came to market, they were thick and rather cumbersome to wear. Today’s manufacturing innovations have enabled a thinner nitrile material to allow for increased dexterity and flexibility while still delivering a high level of barrier protection. Typical disposable nitrile glove thickness ranges from 3 mil. to around 8 mil. Otherwise explained, 1 mil. is .001 inch (1/1000) and is measured at the fingertips, palms or both. The thicker the glove, the greater the barrier protection, but thickness can also compromise dexterity and flexibility. Thickness is a critical factor to assessing nitrile gloves. However, it should not be the only criteria, as the possibility exists for a thin glove with great tensile strength but inadequate barrier protection for a particular application.

3) Glove grade: Glove grade is usually identified on the glove dispenser box or in the marketing literature. Nitrile gloves are classified in one of three grades: medical, exam or industrial. Medical grade is equivalent to exam grade. Medical and exam grade differ from industrial grade in the level of inspections at the time of manufacture. Gloves are graded based on the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL), which is a measure of pinholes and other permeation parameters. A good quality manufacturer will have both gloves produced on the same line with the same formulation, the only difference being the AQL to which it is certified. The FDA requires and enforces an AQL of 2.5 for medical grade, which means manufacturers have to inspect more gloves prior to shipment on medical gloves than industrial gloves. Industrial grade does not alone imply increased tensile strength or durability over a medical grade glove. Rather, an industrial grade glove just did not meet the same criteria as a medical grade glove.

4) Hand fatigue: Hand fatigue is often overlooked as a deciding factor when purchasing nitrile gloves but should be examined just as importantly as tensile strength or mil. thickness. Hand fatigue refers to the lack of force to perform a particular application. A common example of where hand fatigue can occur is on an assembly line where workers are placing small parts into a piece of equipment. Wearing nitrile gloves provides resistance every time the hand is moved. Glove thickness and number of hand movements are directly proportionate to the risk for potential hand fatigue. Clearly, there is a fine balance needed when selecting the proper glove. If the glove is too thin, it will not provide the right barrier protection, and if the glove is too thick, employees are more likely to experience hand fatigue or may have more frequent glove changes which increases costs. The key is to identify a nitrile disposable glove that is thick enough to provide sufficient protection for that application without sacrificing comfort or creating hand fatigue.

5) Color: Nitrile has a wider variety of color choices available. Historically, nitrile disposable gloves have been blue. The blue color makes it easier to spot pinholes in the glove or detect any torn glove pieces in the food when used in food processing applications, as there are no blue-colored foods. Another popular nitrile glove color is black, which is the color of choice with law enforcement because the black color matches better with their black uniforms and does not stand out as dramatically as the blue color. Additionally, black nitrile gloves more easily display the light-colored powdered substances that these officials are looking to uncover when conducting a search. A recent trend in nitrile gloves is multi-color, but blue is still the most recognized color in identifying a nitrile glove.

The next level

Nitrile disposable glove technology has improved dramatically since its entry into the marketplace. There are several new breakthrough developments in the nitrile glove market on the horizon that can exacerbate sales, such as polychloroprene and lotion-based disposable nitrile gloves. Like nitrile, polychloroprene is a synthetic version of latex. It provides the same softness as latex but is considerably more expensive than latex and nitrile. Various manufacturers also offer pre-moistened disposable nitrile gloves with aloe or other lotions to protect hands from drying out with continual use. Ideally, future nitrile disposable gloves will include moisture-wicking properties, but with the invariable advancements, there is no doubt that nitrile gloves will catapult hand protection to the next level.

All in all, the future of nitrile disposable gloves in the industrial market remains auspicious, and if the current trend holds true, usage will only continue to increase and expand into new markets. Even more industries will recognize the inherent benefits that nitrile gloves offer, and with prices being at or near latex, it could certainly make nitrile gloves more affordable.

>Safety signage provides another example. Any employee will tell you that most safety signs don’t change their behavior. In particular, inspirational signs like “Think Safety” or “Be Alert, Don’t Get Hurt” do little or nothing to impact safety. Furthermore, when organizations clutter their walls with signs that have no meaningful information, employees are more likely to ignore important signage. In order to maximize effectiveness, use only compliance signs that direct specific behavior (“Hearing protection required in this area”) and informational signs when appropriate and relevant.

Scientific analysis of safety practices helps leaders to let go of outdated, low-impact strategies and replace them with evidence-based practices that create a safer workplace.