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Safety Gloves Buying Guide

by Jary D. Winstead

There are a variety of protective gloves available for nearly every type of task, so selecting the correct option to protect your hands is important.

While no gloves on the market can provide 100 percent protection from injuries, selecting the correct glove for the task can greatly reduce the exposure of hands to certain hazards. This guide identifies the various types of hazard protection and what glove types and materials will provide the best protection for the tasks you’ll be performing.

First, a Little About Protective Gloves

Keep this in mind as you consider different gloves: The American National Standards Institute and the International Safety Equipment Association have developed guidelines that help ensure consumers’ safety when they use gloves. Testing criteria include cut resistance, puncture resistance, abrasion resistance, chemical permeation, chemical degradation, detection of holes, flame resistance, heat degradation resistance and conductive cold resistance. Depending on the type of resistance tested, the protection levels range from 1 to 6; the higher the number, the higher the level of protection.

Abrasion Protection

If your work involves grinding, polishing, sanding, handling heavy materials, hand tool operation, handling wire and cable or fence work, you are at risk for hand abrasions.

Leather and canvas gloves have been used for basic abrasion protection for years and still provide a good level of hand protection. These days, many knitted gloves with protective material embossed into the fabric or sewn into the glove’s anterior and palm sections serve the same purpose. This provides protection from abrasion, punctures and cuts, while also offering extra grip and a measure of breathability. Other gloves that are good for abrasion protection are made of rubber, PVC, Kevlar®, Dynastop®, Dyneema® and polyurethane, to name a few of the materials.

Chemical Hazard Protection

More than 575,000 chemical products are manufactured, imported and used in the United States today. Selecting the correct type of protection from chemical hazards is crucial.

It comes down to choosing the right kind of material from the options available, which include butyl rubber, butyl vitric rubber, nitrile, PVC, neoprene and latex. Thankfully, chemical-resistant gloves often provide you with a guide listing the chemicals the gloves’ material is resistant to. When selecting a glove for protection against a specific chemical, if the chemical is not listed on the glove’s chemical resistance guide, you should contact the glove’s manufacturer.

Cut & Puncture Protection

Cut and puncture hazards are common, no matter what industry you’re in. People handling sharp objects, such as needles, glass, razors, sharp metals, knives and other blades are at an increased risk.

For the best protection against cuts and punctures, seek out cut-resistant gloves made of stainless steel, Kevlar, Dynastop, Dyneema, spectra fiber, metal mesh, fiber mesh, fiber metal blends, metal core and super fabric, to name a few.

Keep in mind that gloves and loose clothing can get caught in power-driven machinery, resulting in the person becoming entangled in the device. For this reason, most cut-resistant glove manufacturers will not suggest the use of cut-resistant gloves for protection against powered devices. Gloves are typically tested for use with non-powered blades and sharps only.

Cold Temperature Protection

Cold temperatures can quickly cause frostnip or frostbite to unprotected or under-protected skin. Gloves can contain a number of insulating materials, including Thinsulate™, Thermolite®, wool, polypropylene, fleece, synthetics and polyesters, to name a few.

When buying gloves for cold temperature protection, it’s also good to consider whether the material is windproof or waterproof, and look into the material’s breathability.

Heat Protection

Thermal heat protection is necessary for people involved in tasks like welding, cutting and brazing, as well as other jobs in refineries, kitchens and similar places.

Thick leather and canvas are often used to protect against exposure to heat, but for high temperatures, special materials like Nomax, Kevlar, carbons and aluminum are required for true protection. When selecting the best glove for the task, be sure to consider the glove material’s heat range protection level.

Vibration Protection

Prolonged operation of certain machinery and tools — such as riveting, grinding, polishing, sanding, deburring, demolition, drilling, mining, construction, assembly and fabrication, as well as chainsaw and jackhammer work — can cause injuries from vibration. Gloves that protect you from Hand/Arm Vibration Syndrome have special polymers and cushioning to absorb shock and vibration.

Examination and Medical Disposable Gloves

Protection against blood and other body fluids is essential in the prevention of disease and illness transmission. Medical gloves are made of different polymers, including latex, nitrile rubber, vinyl and neoprene, and are available in powdered and non-powdered versions. Powdered gloves contain an inserted powder, such as cornstarch, to lubricate the gloves. Because latex has been known to cause irritation and allergic reactions to some wearers, a non-allergenic material like nitrile is available.

Note: Due to the vast amounts of materials used in gloves today, numerous trademarked materials not listed here. The listing of a material in this piece does not mean the product is or is not endorsed by the writer.

Jary D. Winstead is an occupational safety consultant and the owner of Work Safety Services.

This article provides general information, and is not intended to provide personalized legal or medical advice; please consult with your own advisor and review local/state/federal regulatory guidelines and requirements if you have any questions. 

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