The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires some workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, to safeguard them from various workplace hazards. However, gloves can be less protective and even detrimental to the worker when operating moving machinery. OSHA Standard 1910.138 requires workers to use gloves to protect themselves from the absorption of harmful substances, serious cuts or lacerations, punctures, chemical and thermal burns, and temperature extremes. The use of appropriate gloves depends on the task at hand, the duration of use, the environment and the potential hazard.
Selecting the Right Protective Gloves
Work practices and the type of hazard a worker faces affects their glove selection. While it can be a challenge to find the right gloves, taking the time to do so can make the difference between safety and serious injuries. The functions of one type of glove won't necessarily fit another.
When selecting gloves, certain factors may affect the worker's decision:
- How much thermal protection they offer.
- Their comfort and size.
- Amount of abrasion resistance offered.
- Type of chemicals handled.
- What the worker comes in contact with and for how long.
- Area requiring protection, such as employees' hands only, forearms or full arms.
- Grip of the gloves.
Types of Hand Protection and Uses
Leather, canvas and metal mesh gloves protect against cuts and burns. Canvas and leather gloves also offer insulating protection against sustained heat. Fabric gloves protect against dirt, cuts and abrasions, slivers and chafing, but do not work well with rough, sharp or heavy objects. A worker can use coated fabric gloves for various tasks, including handling bricks, wires or chemical containers. Before wearing gloves, workers should check with the manufacturer to determine how effective they are for the task, particularly when handling chemicals.
Of course, workers can also wear gloves for handling chemicals and abrasive liquids. Chemical-resistant gloves are generally rubber or plastic. Thicker materials usually offer better chemical resistance, but they may impair grip and dexterity, which could lead to hazards. Some types of chemical-resistant gloves include:
- Butyl gloves: Made from synthetic rubber, they protect workers against peroxide, rocket fuels, corrosive acids, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters, nitro compounds and strong bases. They don't oxidize or corrode and stay flexible at lower temperatures.
- Neoprene rubber gloves: Made from synthetic rubber, are pliable, dexterous and resist tears. They work best against hydraulic fluids, gas, alcohol, organic acids and alkalis.
- Nitrile gloves: Made from copolymer, they protect against chlorinated solvents and are suitable heavy-use gloves, as they take longer to deteriorate. They protect against alcohol, grease, acids, and caustics, but are not suitable when working with ketones, oxidizing agents, aromatic solvents or acetates.
OSHA Requirements for Moving Machinery
According to OSHA, those who work around rotating or otherwise moving equipment should not wear gloves, as they can make things more dangerous for the worker by getting caught on the machine and pulling them into it. The agency points to a 2011 incident in a post office where workers wore hand protection near a sorting machine and faced danger from its conveyor belt and parts.
When working around rotating machinery in any industry, the agency follows the policies in the National Association of Letter Carriers Handbook, which states: "Where risk of injury is increased because of machinery, wearing of gloves is prohibited. Gloves must not be worn when and where they can get caught in powered machinery. Examples include, but are not limited to: feeder, induction, stacker and transport conveyor paths; conveyors with pinch and/or nip points; and drills, chain drives and rotating shafts with catch points."
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.