When it comes to selecting hand protection products, comfort is a key factor for decision makers. After all, no matter how protective gloves may be, they are ineffective if workers remove them due to discomfort.

Comfort may be defined as “freedom from pain, trouble or anxiety.” When considering hand protection, however, gloves are usually regarded as comfortable when a worker can perform his or her tasks without removing them.

So what features make some occupational gloves more comfortable than others?

What happens when gloves are uncomfortable?
The level of comfort required to complete a task may be application-specific. Workers in the construction industry often wear leather gloves because they perceive them as providing a high level of comfort. When workers splice wires or handle small parts, however, leather gloves are too bulky and cause the hands to tire quickly, sweat or cramp.

When gloves are uncomfortable, workers remove them, exposing their hands to job-related hazards. Anytime workers remove gloves for one task, there is a real risk that they might not put them on again for another task, thus increasing the chances of a job-related injury.

In a larger company that employs a safety director to oversee glove selection and use, hand protection compliance is less likely to be an issue. A smaller company, however, may encounter problems with compliance because no one notices when workers wear gloves for several tasks and remove them for the rest of the shift. In general, workers are more likely to keep gloves on when the products are comfortable and appropriate for the task — and when someone is there to confirm that they are using them correctly on a continuing basis.

How important are ergonomics?
Various studies indicate that ergonomically designed hand protection can help reduce repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) and related musculoskeletal disorders — especially in older workers who may not be able to manipulate objects as well as they once did. This is why ambidextrous gloves are inappropriate for most tasks within a manufacturing facility. These gloves are not designed in the actual shape of the hand, and therefore, do not provide the support needed for most tasks.

Grip is a critical ergonomic factor. When gloves do not allow workers to securely grasp objects, individuals will apply more force. This can result in both fatigue and RMIs such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. Special coatings are applied to some gloves to allow workers to effectively grasp wet and oily objects without applying a significant force.

What about fit?
To achieve a high level of comfort, gloves should fit and function like a second skin. As mentioned above, ambidextrous gloves are not designed for the hand’s natural configuration and actually have the thumb in a neutral position in line with the other fingers, thus placing force against the thumb during work. Properly fitted gloves follow the hand’s natural configuration and help reduce mechanical stress.

Hand protection products that are too small can restrict movement and blood flow, leading to cramping, fatigue and perspiration. Gloves that are too large may be bulky and can significantly decrease dexterity, causing workers to strain when they perform certain tasks. One size glove will not fit all workers which is why it is important to consider gloves that are available in half sizes as well as whole sizes.

How important is moisture management?
Whether they work inside or outdoors, workers with hot, sweaty hands are uncomfortable. Individuals are more likely to keep gloves on their hands when the products can breathe and when they offer features such as moisture-wicking capabilities, stay-dry linings and cooler fabrics.

Some engineered yarns and fabric structures ensure moisture management. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, polypropylene and nylon that are used in active wear to manage moisture are also widely used in knitted gloves. Gloves with Dyneema® are often described as lightweight with the ability to keep hands cool and dry.

Can certain manufacturing techniques/materials promote greater comfort?
Yes. Some glove manufacturers plate the inside of a glove with a material different from that used on the outside. This is especially popular with engineered fabrics such as Kevlar® because it allows the manufacturer to provide a soft, nylon fabric inside the glove for greater comfort.

Advancements in knitting technology allow manufacturers to vary the density and stitching tension in areas where workers need more room, such as the knuckles and the back of the hand. Gloves that incorporate this type of stitching are more comfortable and provide greater flexibility and dexterity.

Although thinner, lighter fabrics are often associated with greater comfort, workers will consider these fabrics to be comfortable only when they provide the level of protection needed for the application. Individuals employed in a metal fabricating plant, for example, will appreciate thinner fabrics only if they provide sufficient cut protection.

How can decision-makers make the best choices?
Descriptions and terms in the product literature can help decision makers determine if a pair of gloves will provide the necessary degree of comfort. Gloves with a high level of dexterity and tactile sensitivity are more likely to provide comfort for workers in the automotive industry who must pick up and handle small pieces on an assembly operation. Gloves that offer protection from the cold are more comfortable for workers performing tasks in a refrigerated environment, while products with a nitrile coating will enhance comfort for workers handling wet and oily parts.

Because a single glove style is unlikely to provide all the attributes needed for a variety of tasks, it is important to conduct product trials among a cross section of workers. Workers should receive training about the products’ protective advantages so they can perform tasks with a higher level of confidence.

To conclude, protective gloves are like athletic shoes — they provide certain performance characteristics for specific tasks. Just as an athlete wants shoes with performance characteristics that will enable him to win a race, the plant worker wants gloves that will allow him to perform various tasks safely and comfortably at a productive pace.

Dyneema®is a registered trademark of DSM Dyneema

Kevlar®is a registered trademark of E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company