Tips for choosing the right gloves
Single-use gloves, though disposable in nature, perform an important role in providing barrier protection against a range of workplace hazards. Therefore, the same decision criteria used for any personal protective equipment selection needs to be applied.
Single-use gloves are often used because they tend to be thinner than other styles of hand protection. This construction delivers increased dexterity and tactility, making it easier to handle small components or tools and lessening the likelihood of hand fatigue.
Materials — or polymers — used in the construction of single-use gloves include: latex, nitrile, neoprene, polyisoprene and vinyl. Each demonstrates different physical properties that make them more- or less-suited to specific tasks and environmental conditions.
When looking for the most appropriate alternative, a thorough risk analysis must be performed in order to identify the presence of multiple hazards. Once all hazards are identified, the strengths and weaknesses of each available base material can be assessed and the polymer type that delivers the greatest harm minimisation selected. Each of the common polymer materials has a different set of characteristics that makes them a more- or less-suited option specific to the hazards posed. Understanding the material properties of each — and matching them to the application — can significantly simplify the selection process.
When it comes to fit and comfort, latex — a naturally occurring material — is often regarded as having the edge over other polymers. It offers a high degree of dexterity and elasticity, delivers good grip in both wet and dry conditions and features effective insulating properties. Latex can offer splash protection against some chemical families but performs poorly against oils and greases, which degrade the material and make it porous. It is also unsuitable for use with undiluted ketones and aldehydes. Latex withstands tear reasonably well, although this depends on both the thickness of the material and how the glove is manufactured. Once the go-to solution for disposable glove wearers, an increasing prevalence of latex protein allergy has led to the development of non-latex alternatives that offer similar levels of wearer comfort, without allergy risk.
Nitrile is a synthetic polymer that provides excellent resistance to puncture and abrasion. It is free of latex proteins and plasticisers, meaning that allergy risk is limited. New-generation nitrile gloves are thinner and stronger than their predecessors, providing high levels of tactility, durability and sensitivity — particularly at the fingertip. Nitrile is a suitable alternative across a range of applications and environments, particularly when multiple hazards are present. It is increasingly used because it offers a high degree of chemical resistance, although is not recommended for use with ketones or organic solvents. Nitrile is slightly stiffer than latex, which can compromise wet or oily grip capability.
Neoprene — or Polychloroprene — is another synthetic polymer. Its soft, yet strong, properties make it suitable for a range of demanding applications including clean, sterile and wet environments. It offers similar elasticity and comfort to latex alternatives, without the associated allergy risks, and is more elastic and dense than nitrile. Neoprene offers strong protection against acids and base chemicals but is not recommended for use with organic or hydrocarbon solvents. Its medium mechanical properties offer less resistance to puncture and abrasion than either nitrile or latex options.
Polyisoprene mimics all the positive attributes of latex without the associated protein allergy risks. It has good insulating properties, offers excellent elasticity and delivers superior sensitivity, dexterity and wet grip. It does not perform well in protection against oils and greases. The material cost is higher than some other alternatives, making it prohibitive for some applications. It is generally reserved for use in surgical or industrial clean/sterile environments.
The weaknesses associated with vinyl gloves generally outweigh the benefits. A low cost, low allergy-risk alternative, vinyl gloves offer good abrasion resistance, but are susceptible to rips and tears. Vinyl contains plasticisers which may irritate the skin and make it a less environmentally friendly option. It also features poor elasticity, does not hold its shape and degrades when in contact with fatty foods. Vinyl is not recommended for use with ketones and organic solvents.
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