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A handy guide to gloves

By Linda Johnson

Proper selection of safety gloves is the result of a process that takes into consideration many criteria — from level of protection and durability to hand shape and breathability. Yet, while the process seems complicated, the goal is straightforward: to provide the worker with gloves that combine functionality with as much protection as possible.

The first step to selecting any protective equipment is a risk analysis, says Chantal Gauvin, a scientist with the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) in Montreal and co-author of the institute’s recent study, Selecting Gloves for Protection against Mechanical Hazards. The risk analysis will identify what type of risk is posed by the worker’s tasks.

Where workers are exposed to more than one risk, they may have to wear one glove inside another, or different gloves when performing different tasks. Alternatively, it may be better to focus on whichever risk is the greatest, says Marvin Keddy, senior territory manager at safety glove manufacturer Ansell Canada. Trying to protect against all risks can result in extremely thick gloves, which may reduce productivity and be extremely uncomfortable.

“Sometimes, you need to decide what the most important thing to protect against is. It’s a matter of really understanding what that application is,” he says.

Choosing gloves is always a compromise between protection level, comfort and functionality, says Gauvin. Generally, as protection increases, comfort declines because thicker, less breathable and less flexible materials are used to increase protection.


Safety gloves are classified according to several criteria, including material, use, method of manufacture, type of protection and durability. There are two categories of material: fibres and textiles on the one hand, and polymers on the other, which include a range of materials such as synthetic rubber, neoprene, nylon and silicone.

Gloves made of textiles, Gauvin says, provide good mechanical resistance to abrasion, while fibres (such as Kevlar, Spectra and Dyneema) are highly cut resistant. Textile gloves also tend to be soft, flexible and breathable and are more comfortable than polymer ones. Some textile gloves, though, do not provide good resistance to heat, UV rays and moisture.

Polymer gloves are flexible and allow for a high degree of dexterity. They can also offer high elasticity, good grip and puncture resistance.

Polymers can also be simultaneously resistant to mechanical and chemical hazards. Some (such as neoprene and butyl) provide good chemical resistance to oils and some organic solvents, and to oxidative and corrosive chemicals. Others, such as PVC (poly-vinyl-chloride), offer good resistance to aqueous solutions.

All shapes and sizes

Other factors, beside protection, must be considered in selecting gloves: size, shape, dexterity, flexibility, grip, tactile sensitivity, breathability and comfort. In taking the various characteristics into consideration, Gauvin says, you don’t always have to sacrifice one to get another.

“In a situation where wet or oily parts have to be manipulated, choosing a glove that offers adequate grip will also provide the worker a better dexterity and will make it easier to manipulate objects without dropping them,” she says.

Keddy says one of the most important features to look for is quality. When buying safety gloves, companies often consider only the initial purchase price. In the long run, however, lesser quality gloves are likely to lead to more injuries and cost more.

Gloves that are made of less resistant material and construction, and so are less durable, will have to be replaced more often. Less comfortable gloves will also be taken off and put on more frequently during the day, increasing wear and tear and, of course, risk of injury.

“It doesn’t mean you have to go to the most expensive. You just have to make sure the gloves you choose speak to the actual safety factors for the job type that you want to match that glove to, and will help promote productivity,” he says.

In recent years, Keddy says, glove manufacturing has advanced in several ways. In addition to being made of better fabrics, gloves today are better designed ergonomically. Improved technologies have provided higher cut resistance and better dexterity. There has also been a greater focus on abrasion and chemical resistance and better grip.

Before purchasing safety gloves, put them to a real-life test. Workers should put them on and try them in every potential situation to make sure they are suitable for the worker, the task and working conditions.

Finally, like all PPE, safety gloves must be properly used and maintained. Watch for signs of damage (cuts and tears), excessive wear (broken seams, loss of flexibility) and contamination (chemicals, grease). While deterioration can reduce a glove’s effectiveness and affect a worker’s health and safety, the need to make sure gloves remain intact goes beyond safety, Keddy says.

“When palm dipping is flaking off a glove, it may not present so much a safety risk, but it could affect productivity. If a person is working on a production line, that flaking could contaminate what you’re manufacturing,” he says.

Store safety gloves away from heat and protect them from humidity and light. Workers should use care, too, when putting on and taking off gloves — not pulling on the fingers, for example, which can stretch or tear material, and not separating the layers of multi-layered gloves.

Taking care of gloves will prolong their life and, more importantly, help preserve their protective properties to keep workers safe.

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