The hands are a vital part of our ability to work, and yet we often don’t give them the protection they need. With 581,000 UK workers sustaining non-fatal injuries in 2018/19, it’s likely that there are at least tens of thousands of workplace hand injuries in any given year.
From irritated skin to cuts and blisters, there’s a lot of potential hand injuries that can occur in a work environment. This is especially the case if you work with hazardous chemicals, but there is a way of protecting yourself – chemical safety gloves.
Rubber, plastic and synthetic gloves can be used when cleaning or working with oils, solvents, and other chemicals. However, no protective material is completely impervious to chemicals over a prolonged amount of time. Some chemicals will permeate the glove in a few seconds, whilst others could cause damage over days or weeks.
Chemicals can cause serious harm to workers, and chemical protective gloves are the last line of defence for the skin on your hands and wrists. But they also need to be comfortable, flexible and compatible to avoid impeding your ability to work.
Using chemical resistant gloves in the workplace
As with any PPE, it’s important that hand protection is correctly chosen for each job. A risk assessment is the best way of figuring out what the potential hazards in your specific workplace are. The outcome of this assessment should include a list of chemicals that could cause harm to yourself or others as well as any physical hazards.
This will give you an idea of what sort of hand protection gloves you need, and how strong they need to be. Disposable gloves are ideal in some cases but, in others, stronger reusable gloves are required.
Health and safety standards EN ISO374-1:2016/Type A, EN ISO374-1:2016/Type B and EN ISO374-1:2016/Type C (found in BSI’s technical guide to glove standards) cover safety ratings of chemical protective gloves. These standards help to categorise what the gloves protect against and what the glove’s breakthrough time is by measuring penetration, permeation, degradation and marking. Gloves are tested with up to 18 different chemicals.
|Classification||Minimum protection required||Minimum number of chemicals|
|Type A||30 minutes||6|
|Type B||30 minutes||3|
|Type C||10 minutes||1|
Types of chemical safety gloves
Most commonly used in cleaning, laboratories or even medical settings, safety gloves are a great way to protect against biohazards, chemicals, solvents and other harmful substances, whilst also allowing mobility and precision.
However, a lot of gloves that are designed for chemical protection don’t offer any puncture or heat resistance as they are made of thin synthetic material. They should not be used when working with sharp tools or flames, or when working with abrasive surfaces.
Natural rubber gloves
Rubber gloves are good for protecting hands and skin from chemicals whilst performing heavy-duty cleaning tasks. Some gloves are disposable, but others, like the Jet Heavy Duty Glove shown here, can be re-worn if they are properly cleaned and stored between uses. Often heavy-duty rubber gloves offer good mechanical and chemical protection and are a good barrier.
Nitrile gloves have good chemical resistance and are often less expensive than others, meaning that they can be used as general work gloves: resisting gasoline, kerosene and other petroleum solvents. Medical gloves are also made out of nitrile because the material is resistant to oils and fats in the body. However, they should not be used with ketones, oxidising acids, and organic chemicals containing nitrogen as they have poor flame resistance.
Neoprene gives superior protection against a range of hazardous chemicals, including acids, alcohols, oils and inks. Flexible and dextrous, they’re ideal for precision work and provide good sensitivity and grip. They should not be used with inorganic oxidising agents such as concentrated nitric or chromic acids.
PVC gloves are used frequently in the cleaning and petrochemical industries, as they’re inexpensive, durable and cut resistant. They are superior at resisting diluted oxidising agents like nitric, chromic, hydrochloric and phosphoric acid. They can also be used again and again as they resist ageing. PVC gloves should not be used with acetone, ketones, ether, and aromatic or chlorinated solvents.
Those who work with chemical gases like chlorine or hydrogen cyanide will wear butyl gloves on a daily basis due to the material’s low permeability with gases. In the cleaning industry, butyl gloves could be used with methyl ethyl ketone, acetone or other similar cleaning agents, however, they can be expensive so aren’t a favourite industry-wide.
Viton is the most expensive type of chemical protective glove, but it is also the most effective. Developed for use in the aerospace industry, the material is known for its extreme resistance to chemicals and heat. Viton gloves are best at dealing with aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene, toluene, and xylene.