July 1, 2007
Protective gloves are a major element in virtually any industrial work site’s safety program. For many workers, gloves are a part of daily life. In some instances, however, sweat that forms on the surfaces of human hands, and lengthened exposure to liquids inside gloves, can lead to such problems as bacterial contamination, occupational skin disease (OSD) and trauma.
Such hand protection problems are shared by many in a wide spectrum of industries. Government directives on this matter are not clear-cut. Information available from OSHA, FDA and CDC sites is somewhat limited.
About hand washing
Part of the problem lies in the fact that thorough hand washing with hot, soapy water is needed to prevent bacterial contamination and transferring bacteria from hands to food. Hand transfer can be a significant mode of transmission of bacteria and viruses from person to person, from person to surface or vice versa, and from person to food.1
The FDA says that touch-contact-associated bacterial transfer is facilitated by wet hands as compared to dry hands.1 Residual moisture on hands after hand washing has been found to play an important role in the transfer of bacteria and viruses. Hand washing with warm water is thought to exacerbate the damage done to the skin’s barrier function.
Very high frequency of hand washing shows increased skin irritation and increased bacterial counts, possibly due to the defatting of skin, which has been shown to increase the survival of Staphylococcus arueus on hands. Excessive hand washing can interrupt the skin’s normal protective barrier function by cracking or damaging the skin, altering the skin’s pH, removing skin lipids or decreasing moisture. As hand washing frequency, duration and aggressiveness increases, damage to the stratum corneum layer can cause dry skin, chapping, pain, cracking and fissures. Dry skin then causes increased shedding of both skin cells and skin microflora (Docket C-8).2
A recent study found that the main routes of internal glove contamination were self-contamination, cuff entry and failed gloves. Self-contamination is a process in which sweat produced by human hands inside of protective gloves, induced by lack of air exchange and higher temperature inside of the gloves, creates a “bacterial soup” that stimulates extensive bacteria reproduction. Wearing internally contaminated gloves led to higher systemic absorption than was gained from the equivalent skin contamination when not wearing gloves. Repeat wetting of fingers with aqueous NMP (N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone), when gloves were not worn, gave higher systemic absorption than the equivalent continuous exposure, probably due to the low volatility of NMP, leading to increased concentration and longer residence time on the skin.3
A costly problem
According to the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), allergic and irritant dermatitis (contact dermatitis) is overwhelmingly the most important cause of OSDs, which account for 15 to 20 percent of all reported occupational diseases. What’s more, OSDs are believed to be severely underreported, such that the true rate of new cases may be much higher than documented. Estimated total annual costs (including lost workdays and loss of productivity associated with OSDs) may reach $1 billion annually.4
Due to the potential for OSDs, employees are often unwilling to wear supplied protective gloves. One practical way to entice employees to wear their work gloves â€” and to contain OSDs and related medical and workers’ comp costs â€” is through the use of absorbent disposable glove inserts (ADGI) that are worn under latex, rubber, plastic, thermo-insulating or any other type of industrial and protective gloves.
Utilizing non-woven absorption materials, a glove insert absorbs moisture or sweat produced by human hands inside of the protective gloves, hence preventing germination of harmful molds and bacteria. This can lead to significant reduction in occupational skin illnesses, allergic reactions and occupational traumas.
Wearing ADGIs under plastic gloves enables employees to concentrate on the task at hand rather than the disruption of taking off and replacing sweaty work gloves.
A fusion of functionality and ergonomics, absorbent disposable glove inserts can potentially offer users significant improvements in productivity, work environment, and, above all, health and safety. Companies can also reduce costly problems associated with occupational skin diseases.
1 FDA Docket C-8
2 FDA, “Evaluation of Risks Related to Microbiological Contamination of Ready-to-eat Food by Food Preparation Workers and the Effectiveness of Interventions to Minimize Those Risks”
3 The Health and Safety Laboratory, Harpur Hill, Buxton UK, “ Internal Contamination of Gloves: Routes and Consequences”
4 NORA, “Priority Research Areas”