There isn't a single glove that protects against the thousands of chemicals and chemical combinations workers might work with in the workplace. As a result, glove manufacturers continue to develop gloves for more specific, specialized purposes, providing workers with a broader range of hand protection options from which to choose.
Glove manufacturers never stop researching and developing the next generation of chemical protective gloves with a keener focus on hybridization of needs and materials. These new designs and materials possess an array of protective attributes for a broader blanket of hand protection. Still, very specific products that protect against certain chemicals are an integral part of the equation, and manufacturers are reliant upon end users to help guide the way in terms of how chemical-protective gloves evolve based on need.
Driving production decisions, manufacturers must answer some critical base questions and provide a solution for those needs. Questions that arise that drive the manufacturing solution(s) include:
- What are the common chemicals used?
- What is the standard nature of contact?
- Is this incidental or extended contact?
- What is the duration of contact?
- Is it just the hand that needs protecting or the forearm and arm as well?
- What kind of grip is needed (situational contact)?
- What is the anticipated lifespan of the glove?
Obviously, moving forward from this path, the next step from a personal protective equipment (PPE) planning perspective is to determine which products that solve these questions. But consider, where is the industry going in terms of manufacturing processes? What could the future of chemical hand protection look like?
Hybridization for Multi-Use Applications
The future of chemical hand protection seems to be shifting toward products that protect against multiple hazards. Hybrids, for lack of a better term, are a growing segment in the industry.
Glove manufacturers have found ways to manipulate cutting-edge yarns and fibers into a construction that can support cut and chemical hazards while maintaining high flexibility and reducing glove weight without compromising chemical or cut performance levels. Manufacturers are adding more twists with thermal plastics/resins for pinch and impact protection, as well as providing chemical and cut attributes.
New fringe technologies – ranging from "smart fibers" that respond to various stimuli such as detecting certain chemicals, to new engineered yarns, to enhanced coatings – will continue to be incorporated into protective gloves in all areas based in part on customer demand.
The goal is to move toward the "one-glove solution" as much as possible for for these critical tasks. Chemical refineries, oil and gas and fracking are just a few strong industries that immediately would benefit from this type of technology, but the larger audience that will benefit is vast. With R&D teams moving in this direction, there already are products that possess these varying protective qualities and it appears even more glove options will become available to multiple industries.
Smart, Ergonomically Fit Products
Ergonomics is a critically important mandate in all areas of hand protection, and it's no different with the evolution of chemical hand protection. Glove manufacturers look for new ways to increase dexterity and comfort for the user, while simultaneously increasing their protective properties and performance. It is this delicate balance for which manufacturers (and end users) strive.
One such evolution has been in the area of seamless liner construction, which provides the comfort end users require for the critical tasks at hand. Workers most often abandon their gloves because of discomfort. Thick stitching and seams can result in chafing and blisters. Seams also can create weak points in the gloves' construction.
Seamless liners provide a snugger fit, better tactility with non-slip grips, an even grasp on objects and much less hand fatigue in oily, chemically heavy conditions. This enables hands to operate at peak performance without ever letting comfort or dexterity falter.
The future of chemical hand protection is moving into a broader scope of protection for users. Glove manufacturers will continue to push and stretch the boundaries of the yarns, fibers and truly revolutionary materials at their disposal. From the design, to the construction, to the coating, to the fabric and feel, chemical-resistant gloves will continue to be designed and manufactured to better protect and perform for workers. It's anyone's guess just where it will lead, but the end user most certainly will benefit.
Dave Shutt coordinates Showa Best Glove's new product development in general purpose, disposable and chemical-resistant glove lines A 20-plus-year veteran of the glove industry, he holds a degree in business administration from Malone College. aFor more info about glove selection, applications and chemicals, visit http://www.chemrest.com.