Top considerations for lab glove selection

Published: 8-Feb-2021

For glove selection it is crucial to perform an adequate risk assessment, since not all can protect the integrity of your science and the safety of your scientists. Manish Raval from Kimberly Clark discusses

Goves are one of the most critical elements of personal protective equipment (PPE) in a lab environment. Not only do they protect scientists and researchers from known and unknown risks, they also protect the scientific process.

Consider these statistics:

  • Wearing gloves has been proven to reduce the relative risk of injury by 60%
  • 30% of people who experienced a hand injury were wearing the wrong type of glove
  • The indirect costs of an injury can be 4-10 times the amount of direct medical costs
  • The average time off work for a hand injury is six days

The anatomy of the hand is complicated. With bones, tendons, nerve fibres and blood vessels protected by a thin layer of muscle and fat, hands are especially vulnerable to injury.

In addition, because they are used so often in lab work as well as everyday activities, hand injuries from harmful objects are common.

This makes the task of selecting the correct glove both important and challenging. According to an article in Health & Safety International, "even small deficiencies in glove design may reduce grip, strength and manual dexterity." The glove must also be well-suited for the intended purpose without compromising protection, precision or comfort.

The indirect costs of an injury can be 4x-10x the amount of direct medical costs

For example, thicker gloves may provide the right level of chemical protection, but they can reduce dexterity and impact the user's ability to perform a specific task.

As a result, scientists may select thinner alternatives, which provide adequate dexterity but compromise on protection or even require more frequent replacements. Worse still, they may choose to not wear gloves at all, risking injury or chemical exposure. It is a balance that can be disatrous if gotten wrong.

Effective glove selection respects the balance between protection, precision and comfort, while being suitable for the end-use application. These three attributes are critical but are challenging to realise through a single hand protection solution.

Glove selection criteria

On first inspection, many choosers of hand protection solutions might find it difficult to distinguish between the myriad of options available. However, appearances can be deceiving, making it crucial to perform an adequate risk assessment prior to selecting the desired solution, since not all gloves can protect the integrity of the science and the safety of the operating scientists.

Important considerations for glove selection include the following criteria:

Protection: Many laboratory workers are regularly exposed to a range of chemical agents. According to an international safety study, 21% of respondents indicated that they had been injured on more than one occasion in the lab. In addition, in a recent laboratory PPE poll, 85% of gloves clothing respondents said that compliance - getting people to protect themselves from exposure to chemicals or bloodbourne pathogens - was their biggest challenge.

30% of people who experienced a hand injury were wearing the wrong type of glove

This highlights the important role protection plays in glove selection. But protection is not one-size-fits-all. You also need to determine the level of protection required based on the intended use. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is protection against a wide range of lab chemicals required, including cytotoxic drugs? l Do they need to offer chemical splash protection or full immersion protection?
  • Are they manufactured using materials that reduce the risk of allergic reaction?
  • Are tasks requiring high levels of durability performed - do they protect against injuries such as punctures and lacerations from broken glassware?

Precision: Gloves that provide effective grip can help with fine motor skills and the ability to hold onto delicate objects, such as glassware. For a lab environment, look for gloves that are thin, yet protective against a wide range of chemicals, and offer tactile sensitivity and enhanced dexterity through features such as textured fingertips.

30% of people who experienced a hand injury were wearing the wrong type of glove

Comfort: Glove discomfort has been linked to reduced compliance and increased risk of injury, according to an article in Health & Safety International.

The article further states that "uncomfortable glove materials may reduce blood circulation, cause numbness, limit finger and hand motion, cause muscle fatigue and reduce work performance." Therefore, it is essential to consider a glove solution that applies ergonomic principles during the design stage, based on the needs and characteristics of the glove's intended users and the user's task. One method to ensure this is to select gloves that offer certified ergonomic comfort.

Gloves and sustainability

Because of their prevalence in labs and the fact that workers can go through several pairs in the course of a day, gloves are a big contributor to a lab's solid waste stream.

For example:

  • An audit conducted by the University of Washington found that 22% of its research waste consisted of nitrile gloves.
  • A University of California Santa Cruz laboratory waste assessment found that nitrile gloves made up a majority of laboratory waste destined for the landfill.

There are solutions to help address this. Look for a manufacturer-led, auditable programme that diverts used gloves from the landfill through recycling. The RightCycle Program from Kimberly-Clark Professional is one such programme.

Since 2011, the programme has enabled large global corporations, research facilities, universities, nonprofits and a range of businesses to collect their used nitrile gloves and single-use apparel items and have them turned into new plastic products and consumer goods. To date, the programme has diverted more than 1,200 metric tonnes of waste from landfills.

With a programme like this, safety and sustainability truly do go hand-in-hand.

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