Corrosive acid. Radioactive waste. Mutagenic agents. Handling hazardous materials is all in a day’s work for many scientists and researchers. But despite the potential risks associated with these substances, too many workers overlook a key piece of equipment meant to protect them: the humble hand glove.
“I asked a room full of scientists, ‘How many of you were trained on how to select or pick out a glove?’” says Carolina Krevolin, senior category manager, Scientific Gloves at Kimberly-Clark Professional*. “Not one of them raised their hand.”
The only thing separating scientists’ hands from the often toxic materials they work with is the glove. But proper glove fit isn’t always addressed in academic or professional settings. “I have a doctorate in chemistry, and no one ever discussed proper glove use with us,” Krevolin recalls. “A lot of the time, when I was an undergraduate, we didn’t even wear gloves in the laboratory.”
Not Too Big, Not Too Small; Gloves Sized Just Right
According to Krevolin, one of the most important questions scientists, and others who work with hazardous materials, should be asking themselves is, “Does the glove fit?”
Gloves that are too small run the risk of ripping, exposing researchers to contamination. If a glove is too large, leaving unnecessary wiggle room, it can inhibit dexterity—once again making the wearer vulnerable to health risks.
Krevolin notes that a perfect fit adheres without shrinking, molds itself to the hand’s natural shape and gives the wearer’s fingers maximum mobility.
But hands come in all shapes and sizes. Therefore, to ensure safety, Krevolin stresses that wearers identify both the proper glove size and the appropriate glove length for the situation.
For instance, a medical office professional could use a 9.5-inch, medium-size glove. But someone with a similarly sized hand working more directly with potentially harmful substances would want to use a 12-inch glove to cover the wrist while conducting lab work or a 16-inch glove while working in an anaerobic container.
Latex and Nitrile and Polyisoprene—Oh My!
Glove material is another key consideration. Latex is one of the most recognizable material types, but gloves made from nitrile can ensure an even greater level of safety in some situations.
Since latex reverts to its original shape once it’s removed, it can be nearly impossible to spot pin-size holes. “[But] with nitrile you will see a tear in the glove,” Krevolin explains. “It is designed so that you can see where you are at risk of being contaminated.”
Latex originates in the liquid of rubber trees found in areas like Thailand and Malaysia. Allergies to latex proteins are common, making nitrile gloves a popular alternative because they are made from the nonallergenic, synthetic byproduct of oil and latex.
Professionals who work in some health care environments must also be sure that their gloves have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Indeed, medical exam gloves are subject to a battery of rigorous trials before they can be deemed medical-grade and sold with the word “exam” on the box.
According to Krevolin, the FDA has several requirements before a glove can be sold. For instance, a glove needs to meet the FDA's minimum requirements for pinholes (AQL 2.5), which is the minimum pinhole level the manufacturer must meet to be considered a medical glove. If it does not, the FDA can put a hold on those gloves until the problem is fixed.
Implementing Best Practices
Given how entrenched researchers can be in their work, Krevolin acknowledges it can be difficult for them to find the time to stay on top of the best practices for glove use. But Kimberly-Clark Professional’s* APEX program serves as an instructional course for customers using Kimberly-Clark Professional* gloves in their facilities. APEX, which stands for ‘Alignment’ ‘Project Management’ ‘Engagement’ and ‘Exceptional Workplaces’ is a complimentary program where users are appropriately fitted with new gloves, trained on any relevant materials and given the opportunity to raise questions or concerns they may have about switching to new gloves.
“Believe it or not, the glove business is a very drama-filled business,” Krevolin shares. “When it comes to your hands, people tend to be very particular about what they use.”