A Simple Guide to Navigating the Safety-Glove Universe

Guide to safety gloves

Here’s the good news: Safety professionals can choose from thousands of glove styles and glove materials to protect workers in a multitude of different job tasks.

Unfortunately for some safety professionals, that’s the bad news as well.

If the array of options in the safety-glove universe seems as dizzying as the array of stars in the cosmos, we’re here to offer a helping hand.

Types of Gloves

For the purposes of simplicity, we’ll break down the types of industrial safety gloves by the types of protection that they provide.

  • Chemical-resistant gloves—To provide protection against chemicals or liquids, these gloves are coated with butyl, latex, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, PVC or some other synthetic material (or combination of materials). They can be disposable, and are available with a lining (supported) or without a lining (unsupported).
  • Cut-resistant gloves—Using high-performance synthetic fibers such as Dyneema, Kevlar or Spectra, these gloves are designed to protect workers’ hands from cuts, punctures and abrasions. Likewise, cut-resistant sleeves are available to protect workers’ arms.
  • General-purpose gloves—Using a mix of natural and synthetic materials, the gloves in this category provide varying levels of protection against cuts, punctures and abrasions; cold temperatures; moisture; impact and vibration; and exposure to solvents, oils and liquids. This broad category includes mechanics’ gloves (form-fitting protective gloves that aren’t just for mechanics); drivers’ gloves (thin leather gloves that aren’t just for drivers); and leather-palm gloves.
  • Heat-resistant gloves—These gloves incorporate natural fibers as well as synthetic and composite materials to provide varying degrees of protection from heat. Gloves on the low end of the heat-resistance spectrum typically feature terry or cotton (or similar fibers); gloves and mitts on the high end of the spectrum incorporate carbon fiber, Kevlar, leather, wool and various blends and combinations of materials.
  • Specialty gloves—Designed for specialized tasks, these gloves include anti-vibration and shock-absorbing gloves (for workers who operate chainsaws, grinders, rivet guns, sanders and other equipment that produces vibration); clean-room gloves (for jobs tasks in which it’s critical to minimize contamination from dust and other particles); and electrical-hazard gloves.
  • Welding gloves—Made from leather, these gloves are designed to protect welders and other workers who are exposed to heat, flames or sparks, while providing the dexterity necessary to complete their job tasks. For added protection, the gloves can be lined or coated with synthetic materials, and seams can be reinforced with Kevlar fibers.

Safety Gloves Are Evolving

With so many configurations and combinations of materials in the safety-glove universe, there’s bound to be some overlap among the gloves in the categories above (for example, a heat-resistant glove also might offer some cut protection, or vice versa).

However, the bottom line for safety managers is that all of the innovations in glove coatings, construction, fibers and materials are making safety gloves lighter, stronger, more comfortable and more ergonomic than ever, according to Dee Slattery and Laura Proctor of Iselin, N.J.-based Ansell Healthcare.

“With the new technologies and new fibers that are available, [workers] can get really good protection properties along with a lot of dexterity, tactility, sweat management and all the factors that make them comfortable and able to do their jobs easier and better,” says Proctor, who is Ansell’s director of customer marketing-industrial for North America.

Today’s safety glove isn’t your grandfather’s safety glove, Slattery adds.

“We now have special stitching around high-stress areas—such as the knuckles—just to reduce hand fatigue,” explains Slattery, who is senior director of global brand marketing for Ansell’s industrial global business unit. “We have gloves now that follow the form of the hand, or feel like a second skin when you put them on. That’s a huge evolutionary development in glove design.”

You’re Not Alone

If the prospect of selecting the right gloves for your workforce still seems daunting, there’s plenty of help available.

It starts with your glove manufacturer or distributor.

“The sales executive who is out there in the field is like a consultant,” Slattery says. “They have a very keen understanding of the safety-compliance rules, and they have a very keen understanding of the needs of workers and their various job tasks.

“They’re not just there to sell gloves. They’re there to help deliver cost efficiencies for our customers, to educate them and to help them achieve the highest level of safety.”

Proctor and Slattery also point to Ansell Guardian, a continuous-improvement methodology that Ansell provides to its customers via on-site consulting and online guidance. Through the free service, Ansell creates customized programs that are designed to boost customers’ productivity and safety while cutting costs.

As part of the service, Ansell evaluates the customer’s hand-protection needs and “recommends the best glove for the application,” according to Proctor.

“And it’s not always an Ansell glove,” Proctor says. “It could be any glove in the marketplace based on what that application is.”

Among other hand-protection resources, glove makers such as Ansell and Showa Best Glove offer online databases that recommend protective gloves based on specific chemicals queried by EHS managers.

“Various manufacturers have online catalogs and other tools that enable you to drill down to the protection needs that you may have,” Proctor says.

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