Better Choices Improve Hand Protection for the Construction Industry

Sept. 1, 2010
The move away from leather to the protection, personal comfort, fit, launderability and flexibility of task-specific gloves is redefining hand protection.

With the economy improving and more construction jobs in the offing, construction workers and their employers are scrutinizing the glove market for personal protective equipment (PPE) that will provide great protection while facilitating efficient job performance.

More often than not, the gloves they choose are not traditional leather or cotton work gloves. Instead they are looking at gloves with a cotton, nylon or Kevlar liner coated with a polymer such as natural rubber latex or the synthetic polymers, nitrile, neoprene, PVC or polyurethane. In the past few years, these coated gloves have come into their own with lighter coatings and ergonomic designs that allow workers to keep wearing gloves for performing tasks that require more accurate feel and finer dexterity.

In the past, workers complained that they had to remove their gloves to perform delicate tasks. The newer, lightweight, palm coatings eliminate this situation.

In addition, today's technology produces polymeric gloves with length-of-wear times 2 to 10 times longer than those of leather and cotton gloves. Some flat-dipped gloves even have an extra layer of polymer in stress areas such as the thumb crotch between the thumb and first finger. Polyurethane-coated nylon or HPPE gloves offer very durable coatings that are super lightweight and comfortable.

These new-age gloves step up to the task for everything from jobs where dexterity is a must to situations where visibility is key or cut protection is essential:

  • Unlike most leather gloves, they are sized to fit, with most gloves offered in five or more sizes.
  • Their value of long wearability far outstrips leather gloves.
  • They are woven of job-specific fibers such as DuPont Kevlar for cut resistance.
  • They are coated to ensure grip with wrinkled-finished, waffle- embossed or smooth coatings in various weights.
  • Most models are cooler than leather gloves.
  • Models that facilitate fine motor tasks (holding a nail or making an electrical connection, for example) are available.
  • They are available with features such as reinforcement at vulnerable wear points.
  • They are completely launderable.
  • Certain glove models come in hi-vis colors for tasks where worker visibility is key.
  • They pose no threat from the carcinogen hexavalent chromium found in some leather gloves.


The polymer coatings for these gloves may be engineered to absorb or repel oil or may serve as a barrier to chemicals that may irritate, burn or sensitize skin. Foam or sponge nitrile coatings offer a unique answer to the problem of oily grip. These coatings absorb enough of the oil from sheet metal or other oily parts to keep the parts from slipping out of your hands, which can injur your hands or other body parts. The coating also can be applied to engineered yarns designed for cut resistance.

In this post-leather age, gloves designed for cut resistance and oil absorbance are an excellent choice to reduce injuries from cuts or dropped parts. The sponge or foam nitrile can be applied to Kevlar or Kevlar blend liners or to Kevlar Steel engineered liners or to high-performance polyethylene yarns that may be reinforced with fiberglass.


Using an incorrect glove to protect from hazardous chemicals may be worse at times than no glove at all. Cotton and leather gloves offer no barrier to workplace chemicals and should not be used. In contrast, a fully coated polymer glove offers excellent protection from exposure to caustic cement water and from exposure to hexavalent chromium from portland cement, which is a potent sensitizer.

Recent developments in glove manufacturing have made wearing gloves that protect against lacerations or chemicals such as hexavalent chromium more attractive. Workers find flat-dipped, lightly coated gloves much more comfortable and attractive because of their dexterity, which cuts down on hand fatigue. Still longwearing, today's lighter-weight gloves encourage continual wear by the worker and wear for a broad range of uses.


Reduction of hand injuries in the construction industry is everyone's job.

The National Safety Council's “Injury Facts 2010” lists the number of injuries by industry for fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries across many industries based on numbers derived from the U..S Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the construction industry, the last survey from 2007 lists a reported 135,350 injuries that resulted in days away from work in the construction category. Of these injuries, 12,530 were injuries to the fingers, 7,490 were injuries to the hand excluding fingers and 3,770 were injuries to the wrist.

With all the hand protection products available in the marketplace designed to enhance safety, comfort and worker acceptance, the only missing ingredients are training and enforcement. Manufacturers of polymer-coated gloves spend millions of dollars annually researching newer and better glove designs in sizes ranging from extra small to extra, extra large.

With all the new developments in glove technology, lack of dexterity or cumbersomeness can be a thing of the past. Reduction of hand injuries in the construction industry is everyone's job. Non-leather hand protection products are designed to enhance safety, comfort and worker acceptance.

The only missing ingredients are training and enforcement. Workers must be trained on the risks associated with the jobs they are performing and given the proper PPE to help reduce those risks. New age gloves are here to make that happen.

Donald F. Groce is a technical product specialist for Showa Best Glove Inc. Before joining Showa Best, he worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on chemical toxicology studies that included the Agent Orange Study. He is a noted speaker and expert on a variety of occupational and workplace hazards, including latex allergies and chemical exposure-related illnesses.

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