The “Right Stuff:” Chemical Protection & Gloves

By: Barbara T. Nessinger, Editor-in-Chief

Employees where chemicals are manufactured are obviously at risk for hand injuries due to chemical exposure. Other industries are also high-risk for such hazards (i.e., mining, painting, construction, welding, etc.). Selecting the right chemical-
resistant glove for the job can be a complicated (and often confusing) task.

Today’s safety managers must continue searching for new protective PPE products that bring worker comfort, productivity and health to the forefront. Workers now have options and the opportunity to access gloves and other apparel that will assist in their operational duties—while also address their personal concerns.

As Cheryl Reep, Compliance Director for SW Safety Solutions Inc., told IHW last year, “Only if they are presented with solutions for both [operational assistance + personal concerns] will workers make a conscious decision to wear them. Proper glove selection is essential to help workers perform daily tasks better, while increasing compliance and improving their health. This is enlightened safety.”

Standards for Chemical Protection

Chemical protective gloves must meet the requirements of European standard EN 374. This standard was modified substantially in 2016. The changes became effective once they were published in the Official Journal of the European Union. EN 374 has several parts. Part one, officially referred to as EN ISO 374-1:2016, states: “Protective gloves against dangerous chemicals and microorganisms—Part 1: Terminology and performance requirements for chemical risks.” (See IHW’s July-August issue for an in-depth analysis of this standard at https://bit.ly/3zvpWdH.)

You can identify a glove’s chemical protection performance by looking at its marked Type. (See chart, “Marked for Protection”) The Type will tell you how many of the 18 chemicals listed in the table were tested with the glove to check its performance, as well as the expected minimal length of the protection against these chemicals. The letter code denotes the tested chemicals within the EN 374 standard.

Knowing the type of chemicals your employees might be exposed to in their daily tasks is critical to the selection of the types of gloves/hand protection they need. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images)

Chemical Permeation vs. Penetration

We recently asked Gil Leverne, Director, Marketing at SHOWA International, about the term “chemical permeation” and how can it be combatted in industries where chemical exposure is a risk. “Permeation is a process by which a chemical can pass through a protective film without going through pinholes, pores or other visible openings. Individual molecules of the chemical enter the film and ‘squirm’ through by passing between the molecules of the glove compound or film. This is combatted by wearing the proper hand protection within the regulated time of exposure to chemicals,” explained Leverne.

Permeation differs from the term “penetration,” when used to describe a chemical process. Permeation is described as something moving through a substance by diffusion or going through the pores of it by being spread onto it, according to Leverne. Penetration is when a certain chemical can find its way into the pores and imperfections of a certain material.

Knowing the type of chemicals your employees might be exposed to in their daily tasks is critical to the selection of the types of gloves/hand protection they need. This is where a labeling system is important. For example, SHOWA utilizes the EN-374 TYPE A, B, C labeling system. This labeling system is throughout the company’s online assets, catalogs, inner packaging, dispensers, marketing materials and training materials.

Marked for Protection

The markings for protective gloves were updated in the 2016 EN 374 standard (SHOWA’s A, B, C labeling system):

Type A: Protective glove with permeation resistance of at least 30 minutes each for at least six test chemicals.

Type B: Protective glove with permeation resistance of at least 30 minutes each for at least three test chemicals.

Type C: Protective glove with permeation resistance of at least 10 minutes for at least one test chemical.

Single-Use Solutions

Wearing single-use gloves all day can cause more skin-health problems than the dangers from which they are worn to protect in the first place. However, says SW Safety’s Reep, “Today, there are single-use gloves with new technologies that enable workers to perform better; be more comfortable longer; and not suffer any of the hand-health issues associated with wearing gloves.”

Single-use gloves envelope hands in an air-tight space. This can result in restricted airflow, causing hands to sweat, which, explained Reep, results in a change of the natural pH level of the skin. As the skin’s pH changes, it weakens the hand’s ability to resist bacteria, leading to more infections and longer healing times. When hand defenses are weakened, it might result in contact dermatitis.

In addition, the reduced airflow of a glove can cause Transepidermal Water Loss (TWEL), which affects the skin-
barrier function; this can cause skin diseases.

Several new innovations have addressed these issues. To assist with pH balance, gloves can be infused on the inner surface with a pH coating that is formulated in the range of normal skin. This helps to restore and maintain an optimum pH level on the hands. “By not disrupting the skin’s natural pH state, the hand retains its ability to fight infection and environmental stresses.” Reep said.

Sweat-management technology solutions include gloves with absorbent, moisture-wicking liners so workers’ hands can stay dry (and cool), even when wearing the same pair of gloves for hours. Built-in, sweat management can help prevent discomfort and rashes, etc.

Additional Resources:

CDC Niosh: www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/skin/default.html

OSHA: www.osha.gov/safetypays/estimator.html

To purchase the ISO 374-1:2016 standard, go to www.iso.org/standard/66421.html

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