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How to Choose the Best Work Gloves for the Job

People have been relying on work gloves for thousands of years, and today a pair of gloves remains as sturdy and practical a tool as any a worker might utilize. New technological advances have produced gloves thick enough to provide adequate protection for dangerous work while allowing enough dexterity for precise movement. Manufacturers have also made strides in designing work gloves comfortable enough that workers will be less tempted to forego wearing them. Even so, more than one third of all workplace accidents involve hand injuries, costing companies more than $300 million per year according to OSHA Fact Sheet 93-03. The best work gloves for a specific task are essential to protecting employees, as well as companies’ bottom lines.

Every worker knows the importance of picking the best tool for the job, and gloves are like any other tool in that respect: you’ll need the right pair at hand in order to achieve your work goals while protecting yourself correctly. The wrong glove choice, or the decision to work without gloves, could result in injury and its attendant negative effects, such as loss of productivity, decreased employee morale, and higher medical and worker’s compensation costs. Risks workers face that the right gloves can prevent range from skin absorption of harmful substances to cuts and lacerations, severe abrasions, punctures, chemical and thermal burns, and extremes of heat and cold. As the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) states in its hand protection standard 1910.128, the responsibility rests with employers to ensure that the best type of glove is always available for the workplace.

Work gloves made from old reliable standards, such as cotton cloth and leather are useful for many tasks that pose a risk of cuts, punctures or abrasions. Product assembly and material handling require dexterity and tactile sensitivity, which leather work gloves or those made from cotton blends or canvas are best at providing while also protecting the worker from the hazards their tasks pose. Heavier-gauge (thicker)variations provide more hand protection but less sensitivity than thinner-gauge gloves, so the appropriate type should be selected based on the type of work as well as the nature of the hazards present.

Construction workers may deal with heavier and more abrasive materials, and are at risk from wood and metal splinters as well as cuts, scrapes and repetitive motion injuries. Sufficiently thick leather gloves and gloves made from Kevlar or other advanced polymers are necessary for such heavy-duty work. Workers who will be exposed to extreme temperatures, such as those who pack frozen foods, should wear work gloves that insulate against cold temperatures.

Multi-purpose work gloves, which allow for enough dexterity and tactility for a wide range of tasks while providing protection from various kinds of hazards, are often the best option for laborers. Having one sturdy pair rather than a different pair for each type of tasks makes it more convenient for the worker and reduces the risk that he or she will use the wrong kind of glove. By sticking with one flexible pair, the worker will not be at risk of taking off one pair and then forgetting or declining to put on the next when changing tasks.

Workers who handle or are at risk of exposure to hazardous liquids should wear chemical resistant gloves made from synthetic materials. Many liquid chemicals will simply eat through gloves made from more traditional materials, putting the worker at risk for serious burns and other hazards. Glove materials that may provide protection against chemicals include nitrile, latex, neoprene, polyvinylchloride, or other polymers. Nitrile gloves, where appropriate, are the safest option for workers with latex allergies. The glove material and thickness should be selected based on its resistance to the specific chemical or chemicals that are being dealt with. Each chemical’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) should provide guidance on selecting the right type of glove. A combination of multiple types may need to be worn simultaneously where the worker faces hazards from more than one chemical.

In addition to selecting the best kind of glove, it is also crucial to inspect gloves before each use to ensure that they will be effective and are not, for instance, worn down or torn. Gloves exposed to contaminants, such as toxic chemicals, must be decontaminated using the appropriate procedures prior to reuse. It is often safer and more cost-effective to replace synthetic gloves rather than attempt to reuse them. All types of work gloves should be replaced regularly, as the integrity of the item is inevitably undermined through use.

Whatever the material, the employer should be aware that gloves must be properly fitted to the individual worker in order for the product to work properly. Gloves that are too loose or too tight may leave exposed areas of skin, produce discomfort or reduce dexterity. Employers may benefit from seeking employee feedback on the efficacy of the gloves used in the workplace as well as what kinds of gloves the workers would most prefer to use. The right pair of work gloves not only protects workers and allows them to function at a high rate of productivity, but also is also comfortable enough that workers will gladly use them without hesitation.