According to the Work Regulation Act 1992, every employer must provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) to his employees in order to ensure their safety from the possible health hazards at work, except in environments where such risks are fully controlled by other efficient means.
PPE is an important requirement for safety concerns but not the prime one. This is often considered as the ‘last safety resort’ when other methods of safety do not work efficiently. So, PPE features the lowest in the hierarchy of safety control measures, such as protective work environment and technical control of situations. In some cases, gloves as personal protective equipment are still used, along with other measures, to provide an ideal risk control environment.
Materials Used for Preparing Gloves
Gloves come in different fabrics and materials. Some of the common glove materials are:
- Latex: Latex is a natural rubber and is highly flexible. It is made from the liquids secreted by the rubber plant and by virtue of its conformity, latex gloves are comfortably used in precision activities, such as carrying out surgical procedures and other lab operations.
- Nitrile: It is a copolymer fabric which contains propane nitrile in different measurements. Based on its propane nitrile content, its chemical resistance and stiffness varies. The higher the content, the more the stiffness and chemical resistance.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): It is a stiff material that is made softer by adding plasticizers. PVC is the perfect option for protective clothing and gloves in a cleanroom.
- Polyurethane: It is an anti-abrasion material that is coated onto other fabrics and used to make PPE.
- Neoprene: It is a synthetic rubber and is superior to latex. It comes with chemical resistance features and is widely used in chemical operations in labs.
Selection Tips for Gloves as PPE
The exact purpose of the work influences the selection of glove type.
- Prolonged use: If gloves are to be worn for a long time, they should be durable enough to perform efficiently. Low quality gloves can lead to the deterioration of its barrier properties and allow chemical to pass through.
- Protection against heat and cold: If gloves need to come in contact with direct heat, cold, abrasion or a cut, a special kind of safety gloves is better than rubber gloves.
- Protection against virus: If the work requires handling blood and body tissues, latex or nitrile gloves are suitable. These gloves are used in hospital operation rooms and are disposed after a single use.
- Protection against animal allergens: Since neoprene and nitrile gloves are highly chemical resistant, they are suitable to avoid animal transmitted germs and allergens while handling live animals or animal tissues in the laboratory.
Permeation Rate of the Glove Materials
Permeation rate determines the level at which the chemical will start moving through the material of the gloves. The higher permeation rate signifies the faster rate of chemical movement through the material. Therefore, the users should be aware that the gloves will infiltrate to some extent due to permeation. A high permeation rate can gradually degrade the material. The material may deteriorate and become stiffer or softer, depending on its type. The limit of this deterioration is that the material may start dissolving in the chemical.
Hazards of Deteriorated Materials
A professor in the USA died in 1997 while working in his lab from exposure to a chemical named dimethylmercury, which permeated through her latex gloves. During the same year, a researcher at Darmouth lost her life due to acute mercury poisoning. Dimethyl mercury has a higher permeation rate in case of latex gloves and though she replaced her gloves soon after the exposure, she could not escape the symptoms of mercury poisoning which developed several years later.
Therefore, it is vital to select appropriate gloves for different types of chemicals used. While working with highly toxic chemicals, select gloves made of a higher chemical resistance material.