Workers face many kinds of workplace hazards, and glove manufacturers have designed literally thousands of styles of gloves to protect workers’ hands against those hazards. The five most common threats to hands are: abrasion, cut, puncture, chemical and temperature (heat/cold). Other hazards include radiation, electrical shock and vibration.

So much to consider

When trying to determine the right glove for the job, there are so many variables to take into consideration. Some variables that can come into play in the glove selection process include:
  • dexterity and tactile sensitivity required to do the job
  • price of the glove
  • washability of the glove
  • comfort
  • hand fatigue
  • dry grip
  • oily grip
  • cleanroom compatibility.

Gloves not only protect hands from injury, but in many jobs protect the product from contamination by the hands. For example, in a food processing plant workers wear gloves to protect the food from bacteria and germs on their hands, or in a glass plant workers might need to wear gloves to keep their fingerprints and hand oils off the product.

Much has been written about what gloves to choose for protection against certain chemicals or certain hazards. For example, leather gloves are suggested for abrasion protection, like handling concrete blocks and rough castings. Even more specifically, split leather (suede) has higher abrasion resistance than top-grain leather glove styles.

Materials like Kevlar® and Dyneema® are man-made materials known for their high cut resistance and are incorporated in many high-performance cut-resistant gloves. Many glove manufacturers have extensive chemical resistance guides for their glove lineups, complete with breakthrough times and degradation ratings for hundreds of common workplace chemicals. For example, latex gloves are suggested for use with acetone, nitrile gloves when working with gasoline, and polyvinylchloride (PVC) gloves when working with sulfuric acid.

Handling multiple threats

But what about when a worker’s job has them facing multiple threats or hazards to their hands? This is actually quite common in the industrial workplace. Multiple hazards also make the glove selection process far more challenging. A glove distributor might have 100 glove styles to offer a customer that are chemical resistant. But that offering can be narrowed down by naming a specific chemical you are working with and by adding in the need for temperature protection to 200°F. Now that distributor may have only one glove in its lineup to offer.

Other examples of multiple hazards are jobs in stamping plants or metal fabrication that require cut and puncture protection from both sharp and pointy edges, or gloves for some circuit board manufacturing applications that are required to be both high heat resistant and lint free. Those kinds of multiple hazards or demands on the glove will tax the minds of even the most experienced safety professionals and work glove sales professionals.

Many jobs don’t stop at two hazards. Take the earlier example of a metal fabrication operation where the worker needs to be protected against cuts and punctures. Now throw in spark and heat protection from a spot welding operation required to produce these sharp and pointy metal parts. At this point, the worker now has three hazards to deal with and your glove choices have just been narrowed down considerably.

Combinations of hazards

If we work with just the five aforementioned main hand hazards and limit our discussion to two-hazard job applications, that gives us ten combinations of dual-hazards to deal with. Those being: abrasion and cut, abrasion and puncture, abrasion and chemical, abrasion and temperature, cut and puncture, cut and chemical, cut and temperature, puncture and chemical, puncture and temperature, and lastly, chemical and temperature.

Some of these two-threat combinations are easy to solve, and a safety professional will have hundreds of good solutions to choose from. Take abrasion and temperature, for example. There are hundreds of lined leather work gloves available to handle from 50-below to 450°F. It becomes more challenging if the temperature goes below -50°F or above 450°F. In that case, leather is out of its working range and the selection process becomes more difficult.

Suppose you want 1,000°F temperature resistance plus high abrasion resistance. A standard wool-lined glove with a 100-percent Kevlar® outer shell will handle the heat but not the abrasion. But a blended outer shell of Kevlar® and fiberglass will do the trick, or a metal mesh palm patch over the Kevlar® shell will also solve the problem. The point being that there is a solution to the challenge, but it will take some research or consultation with a glove professional.

Some of the two-threat combinations are much more difficult to solve, however. For instance, take the temperature and chemical combination. This dual threat can stymie many a safety professional, despite the fact that hundreds of models of gloves may come close to meeting this challenge. But a bit of research will pay off, as there are lined neoprene gloves out there that will provide chemical protection even while the user’s hand is immersed in a boiling liquid.

Do your research

If you have job applications with multiple hand threats in your workplace, do some research online, or talk to a glove expert at a company specializing in hand protection. R&D departments are bringing new gloves to market on a regular basis to address tricky multiple-hazard problems. Rest assured that no matter the need there are always solutions to hand protection dilemmas.