Protecting Those Who Protect Us First

By  Bob Gaither, Contributor

Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) is a synthetic material that has rubber-like properties and can be used for everyday hand protection, thus helping save nitrile and latex gloves for frontline mission-critical workers. (photo courtesy SW Safety)

As the global demand for PPE continues to increase during the coronavirus pandemic, we must all look for ways to ensure that there are necessary resources available for the essential workers who require it the most—chiefly those in mission-critical healthcare positions. With the need for single-use nitrile and latex gloves increasing, and personnel movement restrictions decreasing production, it is anticipated that the current shortage will last into 2021.

It is important that we reserve nitrile and latex single-use gloves for healthcare personnel and first responders, while identifying appropriate alternatives for the general population and those with less intensive PPE requirements. Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) gloves can be a quality alternative, as they have several attributes that make them an ideal substitute for hand protection in everyday settings. In particular, TPE gloves combine high ease-of-use and broad chemical resistance into an affordable, recyclable product that is comfortable for the wearer.

The following features make TPE gloves a viable alternative during this global glove shortage.

Material

TPE is a synthetic material that has rubber-like properties—particularly high flexibility and broad-spectrum chemical resistance. The material has great stretching ability, low modulus and good recovery to its original shape that make it comfortable for the wearer. While TPE has similar chemical resistance properties to natural rubber latex, the gloves are usually lighter in weight and are not worn for jobs that involve high mechanical risks.

However, there are multi-layer TPE gloves available for high-risk chemical environments. Finally, because of the chemical-resistance properties of TPE, the gloves can be exposed to hand sanitizers to extend their use. SW has performed tests with 75% alcohol sanitizer, as well as 80% ethyl alcohol hand sanitizer.

Wearability

TPE gloves are easy to don and doff—while providing high wearer comfort and dexterity. Once slipped on, the pliable material warms to the touch and conforms to the shape of the hand for a comfortable fit. The open cuff makes them ideal for workers who need to frequently change and remove gloves in between tasks. The thin, highly flexible material makes the TPE gloves ideal for activities that require dexterity over long periods of time, such as food preparation. These attributes make them a perfect fit for anyone who requires light-duty hand protection on a daily basis.

Manufacturing

The production process allows for clean and economical products. TPE gloves are produced by the cut-and-seal process, which allows for high volumes to be made quickly at a relatively low cost. The manufacturing process uses few chemicals, so the gloves are clean and powder-free, and they do not contain any residual allergens. This clean manufacturing process provides wearers, who may typically have reactions to hand protection, with a product that meets their needs. TPE gloves are also environmentally friendly, as the plastic product can be recycled.

Applications

The comfort, low cost and broad-spectrum chemical resistance of TPE gloves allow them to be used in a variety of applications. It makes them ideal for protection in low mechanical-risk environments, such as retail, beauty, housekeeping, cleaning, painting and home services.

They are also ideal for food service and food preparation. Because of their clean manufacturing process, TPE products are FDA approved for food contact. They provide workers the high dexterity needed in food prep and production—and they are typically available in a variety of colors, to address cross-contamination requirements (e.g., seafood/pink, produce/green, red/red meat, blue/seafood, yellow/poultry).

The lightweight nature of TPE gloves and broad chemical-resistance properties of the material make them appropriate in many applications as an under-glove. They can be used under a knit-dipped, mechanical protection glove that involves wearer contact with liquids that can harm skin. Because of their low cost and lightweight nature, they are also used under nitrile and latex, reusable chemical-resistant gloves to enhance chemical protection. In these critical environments, wearing TPE gloves as an under-glove can extend glove life; keep workers protected; and provide an extra sense of reassurance.

It is the sum of these factors that make TPE gloves an ideal alternative to nitrile and latex single-use products.  From their broad chemical-resistance properties to clean manufacturing process, these economical gloves go a long way in providing light-duty hand protection in a wide variety of applications—as a primary glove for dexterity or as an under-glove in higher risk environments.

With COVID-19 impacting the global supply of single-use gloves, SW Safety recommends we all seek ways to reserve nitrile and latex gloves for frontline mission-critical workers and to use TPE gloves for everyday hand protection. Now is the time for everyone to lend a hand to the global effort in keeping the world a safer, healthier, and better protected place. WMHS

About the Author:

Bob Gaither is Chief Commercial Officer at SW Safety.