Getting Enlightened About Single-Use Gloves Improves Worker Health

Proper glove selection is essential to help workers perform daily tasks better, while increasing compliance and improving their health. Workers now have options and the opportunity to access gloves to assist in their operational duties. (photo courtesy SW Safety Solutions)

By Cheryl Reep, Contributor

The Historical Single-Use Experience

Take a moment to think about wearing single-use gloves. If you just thought about tight-fitting, powdery-feeling, hand-sweating, flimsy gloves that make you want to wash your hands after you use them–you are like most people today. And, you are just like most workers who are required to wear single-use gloves for on-the-job protection but avoid wearing them. It is no secret why workers avoid wearing them: Wearing single-use gloves all day can cause more skin-health problems than the dangers from which they are worn to protect in the first place.

What is a secret to most people is that the old single-use gloves are a thing of the past. Today, there are single-use gloves with new technologies that enable workers to perform better; be more comfortable longer; and not suffer any of the hand-health issues associated with wearing gloves. There are new innovations that have addressed these common issues. The key is taking the time to learn about these new products—in a category that most people don’t think to learn about—because it just seems so easy to feel you already have a grasp of it.

Skin pH & Contact Dermatitis

Single-use gloves, by their very nature, envelope hands in an air-tight space. With this restricted airflow, hands tend to sweat, which results in a change of the natural pH level of the skin. Hand pH tends to be on the more acidic side, and this acidity helps combat harmful microbes and bacteria.

After prolonged single-use glove wearing, hand pH changes. As the pH changes, it weakens the hand’s ability to resist bacteria, leading to more infections and longer healing times. When hand defenses are in this, “weakened state,” it leads to other issues—chiefly contact dermatitis. As recognized by the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, contact dermatitis is one of the most common types of occupational illnesses, with an estimated annual cost exceeding $1 billion. It constitutes 90-95% of all cases of occupational skin disease with symptoms of itching, swelling, redness, flaking and scaling skin. OSHA’s Safety Pay calculator indicates employer’s cost at $20,000 for a case of dermatitis. This is clearly the most common hazard for prolonged single-use glove wearers.

Sweat and Occupational Exposure

Wearing gloves for prolonged periods can cause hand irritation in other ways, as well.  Excessive sweating can quickly become unbearable for a wearer—reducing comfort and ultimately productivity.

The reduced airflow of a glove can cause Transepidermal Water Loss (TWEL), affecting skin-barrier function which can also result in skin diseases. Adding to this, in healthcare and many other settings, workers are required to wash their hands before donning a new pair of gloves. Repetitive handwashing strips down the natural oils of the skin, and this repeated wetting/drying makes the skin less pliable and prone to redness, dryness and burning. The regular use of disinfectants, soaps and foaming agents break down the skin-barrier function (referred to as stratum corneum disturbances or abnormalities), leading to skin inflammation and other hand diseases. Add cold or dry air, and the effect is exacerbated. These health issues associated with glove wearing can escalate from being an occupational issue that impacts job performance to quality-of-life issues that have greater impact when not at work.

New Glove Technologies

Workers no longer have to suffer from the side-effects of wearing daily hand protection. Today, there are host technologies that solve the common issues associated with prolonged glove use. There are many new technologies, but some of the more significant ones have been proven in the field for years.

pH balancing

Glove occlusion effects can now be managed by selecting a glove that is pH balanced. These gloves are infused on the inner surface with a pH coating that is formulated in the range of a normal skin to restore and maintain an optimum pH level on the hands. By not disrupting the skin’s natural pH state, the hand retains its ability to fight infection and environmental stresses.

Cleaner Gloves

Workers with sensitive skin report sensitization and allergic reactions to gloves with accelerators. Chemical accelerators, such as thiazoles, carbamates and thiurams, are known contact sensitizers. During manufacturing, special post-processing and multiple washings of the gloves reduce chemical residues to non-detectable levels, eliminating the potential for chemical reaction allergy effects.

Sweat Management

New technology developments now feature gloves made with absorbent liners that wick away moisture from the skin—sweaty hands from glove wearing can be a thing of the past. This advancement allows worker to stay cool and dry while working extended hours with the same pair of gloves. The built-in sweat management technology addresses the discomfort and prevents hand moisture that causes rashes and a host of other skin problems.

Hand Health Aids

Aloe vera alleviates dry, itchy skin. There are gloves available where this ingredient is coated inside the glove’s surface to soothe dry hands while on the job. Aloe vera polysaccharides, the main active component of Aloe vera for skin hydration, are aimed at skin penetration and boost its natural moisturizing levels keeping hands softer and healthier. There is even a new generation of Aloe vera technology that provides a lasting hydrating and moisturizing effect that can endure frequent handwashing.

Knowledge is Indeed Powerful

Today’s safety managers must continue searching for new glove products that will bring worker comfort, productivity and health to the forefront, as well as looking at the totality of worker safety. Workers now have options and the opportunity to access gloves that will assist in their operational duties—while at the same time address their personal concerns. Only if they are presented with solutions for both will they make a conscious decision to wear them. Proper glove selection is essential to help workers perform daily tasks better, while increasing compliance and improving their health. This is enlightened safety.

Cheryl Reep is Compliance Director for SW Safety Solutions Inc.

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