Safety Gloves

The consequenses of not wearing the right gloves can be eczema. Eczema is an inflammatory state in the outer layers of skin.



The function of the skin

The function of the outer layer of the skin is to stop foreign bodies and substances from penetrating into the organism. Water soluble substances are only poorly absorbed through the skin intact whereas fat-soluble substances such as solvents are very rapidly absorbed because they penetrate the fat layer under the skin.

The wetter the skin and the higher the temperature, the greater the rate of penetration. Which is why working with soap is one of the major causes of eczema, together with detergents, organic solvents or extreme pH effects from acidic or alkaline chemicals.

Skin penetration also increases when there are open sores or other skin damage. So it is also important to protect the skin when working in hot or cold conditions and when working on jobs that involve cuts, abrasions and wear and tear.

Gloves should protect the hands against the effects of chemicals, heat, cold or abrasion and are essential for certain tasks.

Risks of Eczema

Failure to use the right gloves can lead to eczema. Irritative and allergic contact eczema are inflammatory conditions of the outer layer of the skin which presents as inflamed, hard skin, blistering and possibly itching.

Also be aware that contact with skin elsewhere than on the hands can also lead to eczema, for example when oily clothing rubs against the skin on the front of the thighs or forearms. So good hygiene is essential with frequent changes of work clothing and removal of oil. Safety data sheets should also state whether skin elsewhere than on the hands should be protected. This might for example mean wearing an apron, boots or a proper chemical suit.

Choice of gloves

When choosing gloves, there are a number of questions to be answered before deciding on the type of glove to be used:

  • What protection should gloves provide: chemical, extreme heat or cold or abrasion and wear ?
  • Should gloves be capable of withstanding cuts or tears?
  • Should gloves also protect the forearm?
  • Should gloves give a good, safe grip on tools, equipment etc.?

Gloves must have been tested and approved by an authorized testing institute. They must be CE marked and comply with EN standards. EN 420 describes the basic requirements for gloves, including hand size, finger sensitivity and skin-friendliness. There is also a whole range of standards for resistance to wear, cuts, chemicals, etc.
When protection against chemicals and work that makes major demands on durability is involved, it may be necessary to wear work gloves outside chemical gloves.

Gloves can be roughly divided into two groups: Safety gloves and chemical protection gloves.

Safety gloves

Safety gloves protect against various hazards such as wear, abrasion, cuts, extreme heat and cold - depending on the type. They are usually knitted or made of leather/hide or cotton. Safety gloves do not normally protect against chemicals or chemical solutions. There are safety gloves that have an outer coating of rubber or plastic which gives them some chemical protection but nevertheless they do not give sufficient protection.

Chemical protection gloves

Chemical gloves are available in many different materials, the most usual being latex-rubber, nitrile rubber and PVC. More expensive gloves are available made of butyl rubber, viton and PVA. The material used is very important for the chemical protection they provide.

The problem with composite products containing several different substances is that even small amounts of something that can penetrate a particular glove material can act to channel other substances through the glove. This also applies to substances that a glove might otherwise provide good protection against.

In the safety data sheet, you can see the types of gloves recommended by manufacturers for individual chemicals. Glove suppliers can also tell you how long it takes before a chemical penetrates a glove. Break-through or penetration time is calculated from the moment that the glove is in contact with the chemical. Many chemicals tend to continue seeping through the glove even after you may have stopped using the chemical. So for some jobs, disposable gloves are required and would the right choice. For most jobs aboard, ‘4-H’ or ‘Silver Shield’ gloves are suitable. 4-H gloves protect against most chemicals for a minimum of 4 hours. However, they are rather stiff and can be difficult to work in. Use a thin disposable latex/vinyl glove outside to provide better grip and sensitivity.
PVA gloves can also be used for many organic solvents but they have a weakness – they cannot tolerate water.
Nitrile gloves can be used for oil products. Neoprene, viton and PVC gloves are also recommended for certain oil products.

Do not use barrier cream under or instead of gloves.

Using gloves

It is important for gloves to fit and to be clean, undamaged and dry. So it is important that you should be able to dry gloves.
Depending on the inner lining of chemical gloves, they may be cold or uncomfortable to wear. It helps to wear cotton gloves inside. Cotton gloves also absorb sweat and help keep skin dry.

It is a good idea to make a poster showing the different kinds of gloves aboard the ship and the jobs and chemicals they should be used for.
The general recommendation is to limit skin contact with chemicals as much as possible. This also means that chemical splashes on the skin should be washed off rapidly. For this reason, too, consider opting for the least dangerous chemicals and use working procedures and technical equipment that reduce contact with chemicals.