Written by Steve Hudgik
When engineering and administrative controls cannot be used to reduce exposure to hand hazards to an acceptable level, personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used. In the case of hand hazards, gloves must be used. The following OSHA standards apply:
OSHA Standard 1910.138(a) - Personal Protective Equipment, Hand Protection
"Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees' hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes."
OSHA Standard 1915.157(a) - Personal Protective Equipment, Hand and Body Protection
"The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate hand protection and other protective clothing where there is exposure to hazards such as skin absorption of harmful substances, severe cuts or lacerations, severe abrasions, punctures, chemical burns, thermal burns, harmful temperature extremes, and sharp objects."
1915.157(c) - Personal Protective Equipment, Hand and Body Protection - Electrical Protective Devices.
"The employer shall ensure that each affected employee wears protective electrical insulating gloves and sleeves or other electrical protective equipment, if that employee is exposed to electrical shock hazards while working on electrical equipment."
Hand Hazards - Protection
When a workplace hazard assessment shows there is a potential for injury to hands, it is the employer's responsibility to ensure employees wear appropriate hand protection. Potential hand hazards include skin absorption of harmful substances, chemical or thermal burns, electrical dangers, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures and amputations. Protective equipment includes gloves, elbow-length gloves and finger guards.
Employers need to first consider all possible engineering and work practice controls for eliminating hazards. Only after has been determined that no other option is available may PPE be used to provide protection against hazards. For example, machine guards can be used to eliminate a hazard by preventing access. Installing a barrier on a table saw to prevent workers from placing their hands at the point of contact between the saw blade and the material being cut is another method.
Hand Hazards - Types of Protective Gloves
There are many types of gloves available. The type of glove to be used will depend on the type of hazard. The number of possible hand injuries can make selecting the right gloves challenging. But, it is essential that gloves be used that are specifically designed for the hazards and tasks to be done. Gloves designed for one hazard may not protect against a different hazard even though they may appear to be appropriate.
The following are examples of factors that should be considered when selecting protective gloves:
- Types of chemicals being handled.
- Nature and duration of contact with liquids (total immersion, splash, etc.).
- Area requiring protection (hand only, forearm, arm).
- Abrasion resistance requirements.
- Electrical resistance requirements.
- Need for cut and slash protection.
- Grip requirements (dry, wet, oily).
- Need for burn and thermal protection.
- Correct size and comfort.
Gloves are made from a wide variety of materials. The right glove material must be selected for the type of hazard the gloves are protecting against. In general, glove materials fall into four groups:
- Leather, canvas or metal mesh.
- Fabric and coated fabric gloves.
- Chemical and liquid-resistant gloves;
- Insulating rubber gloves.
Hand Hazards - Leather, Canvas and Metal Mesh Gloves
Leather, canvas and metal mesh gloves provide protection against abrasion, cuts and burns. Leather or canvass gloves also protect against sustained heat.
- Leather gloves protect against sparks, moderate heat, blows, chips, and abrasion from rough objects.
- Aluminized gloves provide reflective protection against radiant heat. With an insulating insert they also protect against conductive heat and cold.
- Aramid fiber gloves protect against heat and cold. The also provide protection against cuts, and abrasion.
- Synthetic gloves of various materials offer protection against heat and cold, cuts, abrasion and they may provide some protection from diluted acids. Synthetic gloves will not provide protection against alkalis and solvents.
- Metal mesh and chain mail gloves provide cut and slash protection.
Hand Hazards - Fabric and Coated Fabric Gloves
Fabric and coated fabric gloves are made of cotton or other fabrics, depending on the degree of protection that is required. There are two basic types of fabric gloves:
- Fabric gloves protect against dust, dirt, slivers, chafing and abrasions. Fabric gloves do not provide good protection against rough, sharp or heavy materials. For example, something as simple as a wood splinter can penetrate fabric gloves.
- Coated fabric gloves provide additional protection. They are typically made from cotton flannel with napping on one side. By coating the unnapped side of the glove with plastic, the fabric gloves become rugged general-purpose hand protection that includes slip-resistant qualities.
- Coated fabric gloves are used for tasks ranging from handling bricks and wires, to handling chemical laboratory containers. When selecting gloves to protect against a chemical exposure hazard, check to ensure the glove are effective against the specific workplace chemicals and conditions.
Hand Hazards - Chemical Resistant Gloves
Chemical-resistant gloves are made using various types of rubber such as natural rubber, butyl, neoprene, nitrile and fluorocarbon (viton). Chemical-resistant gloves may also be made from various kinds of plastic such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyvinyl alcohol and polyethylene. In addition, these materials may be blended or laminated to provide better protection. As a general rule, the thicker the glove material, the greater the chemical resistance. The down side is that thick gloves can make it more difficult to hold objects and will impair dexterity, having a negative impact on safety.
Some examples of chemical-resistant gloves include:
- Butyl gloves are a synthetic rubber glove. They provide protection against a wide variety of chemicals, such as peroxide, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, hydrofluoric acid, red-fuming nitric acid, aldehydes, ketones, strong bases, alcohols, esters and nitrocompounds.
- Butyl gloves resist oxidation, ozone corrosion and abrasion. They also remain flexible at low temperatures.
Butyl rubber gloves should not be used with aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons and halogenated solvents.
- Natural (latex) rubber gloves are comfortable to wear, making them a popular general-purpose glove. Natural rubber gloves have excellent tensile strength, elasticity and temperature resistance. They provide protection against abrasion caused by grinding and polishing. They also protect hands from most water solutions of acids, alkalis, salts and ketones.
- The down side is that latex gloves cause allergic reactions in some individuals, so they may not be appropriate for all employees. Hypoallergenic gloves, glove liners and powderless gloves are possible alternatives for workers who are allergic to latex gloves.
- Neoprene gloves are made of a synthetic rubber. They are pliable and provide excellent finger dexterity, as well as high density and tear resistance. Neoprene gloves protect against hydraulic fluids, gasoline, alcohols, organic acids and alkalis. They generally have chemical and wear resistance properties superior to those of natural rubber gloves.
- Nitrile gloves are made of a copolymer. They provide protection against chlorinated solvents such as trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene. Nitrile gloves are excellent for jobs requiring dexterity and sensitivity.
- Nitrile gloves will stand up to heavy use even after prolonged exposure to substances that cause other gloves to deteriorate. They offer protection when working with oils, greases, acids, caustics and alcohols. They are not recommended for use with strong oxidizing agents, aromatic solvents, ketones and acetates.
Hand Hazards - Care of Protective Gloves
As with any other protective equipment, gloves need proper care if they are to provide reliable protection against hand hazards. Gloves should be inspected before each use. Look for tears, punctures or other damage. For gloves intended to protect against liquids, a visual inspection will find some cuts or tears, but a more thorough test is to fill the gloves with water and tightly rolling the cuff towards the fingers. This will reveal any pinhole leaks. Gloves that are discolored or stiff may be damaged by excessive use or degraded from chemical exposure.
Gloves that are damaged or worn will have a reduced ability to provide hand protection. They should be discarded and replaced.
Reusing chemical-resistant gloves should be evaluated carefully. This should include an evaluation of the absorptive qualities of the gloves. In addition, a decision to reuse chemically-exposed gloves should take into consideration the toxicity of the chemicals involved and factors such as duration of exposure, storage and temperature.
Hand Hazards - Warning Signs and Labels
Use signs and labels to warn about hand hazards and the need to use gloves. Signs are used to warn that hand protection is required in certain areas. In addition, the signs may specify the type of gloves that are required. Labels on chemical containers should inform workers that hand protection is required. In addition, signs and labels are used to provide general reminders about the need for hand protection.
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