First: Determine the Hazard
What is the main hazard? Are you concerned with protection from hazardous chemicals, biological materials, radioactive materials, sharp objects, or a combination of these? Also, consider the length of exposure.
Second: Glove Selection
In general latex and nitrile gloves are by far the most common gloves used In research laboratories. Standard latex exam gloves are cheap and do provide protection for biological and aqueous radioactive hazards, but can cause latex allergies in some people. However, if your main concern is chemical protection, then latex is definitely not the glove for you. While disposable nitrile gloves are slightly more expensive than latex, they do provide protection from more chemical hazards.
- Chemical Hazards: Look at glove selection guides listed below. Gloves are rated for degradation, breakthrough, and permeation rates. Choose a glove that provides the best resistance to the chemical being used. For some hazards double gloving may be needed. (For example, now the recommended gloves for dimethyl mercury are a highly resistant laminate glove (Silver-Shield or 4H), which has no abrasion/cut resistance, worn under a pair of long cuffed unsupported neoprene, nitrile, or similar heavy-duty glove.)
- Biological Hazards: Protection from biological hazards may be simple or complex dependent on whether the biological material is immersed in something other than water.
- Radioactive Hazards: Gloves provide a necessary personal protection barrier and help prevent scatter contamination. Glove selection is based on the carrier material (i.e. water, toluene, etc.). (Radioiodination procedures require double gloving.)
- Sharps Hazards: Chemical compatibility guides may not indicate susceptibility to abrasion or cuts. You will need to check Manufacturer or Supplier for this information.
- Combination Hazards: Selection guides normally list gloves by the protection they provide from one "pure" chemical, not a combination. In this case selection should be based on the component with the shortest breakthrough time.
The following guide is a general guide for glove selection in relation to chemicals handled. The information presented here is believed to be accurate; however, we cannot guarantee its accuracy. Many factors affect the breakthrough times of glove materials including, but not limited to:
- Thickness of glove material
- Concentration of the chemical worked with
- Amount of chemical the glove comes in contact with
- Length of time which the glove is exposed to the chemical
- Temperature at which the work is done
- Possibility of abrasion or puncture.
Some Common Sense Rules for Glove Use
- Select gloves which are resistant to the chemicals you may be exposed to. Consult the relevant Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which may recommend a particular glove material.
- Select gloves of the correct size and fitting; gloves that are too small are uncomfortable and may tear whereas overlarge gloves may interfere with dexterity. In some cases, such as use of HF, it may be advisable to select gloves that can be removed very rapidly in an emergency.
- Before use, check gloves (even new ones) for physical damage such as swelling, shrinking, cracking, discoloration, tears or pin holes and for previous chemical damage: this is especially important when dealing with dangerous materials such as HF. Always check out the expiration date and never use expired gloves.
- When working, it may be advisable to wash the external surface of the gloves frequently with water.
- Some gloves, especially lightweight disposables, may be flammable: keep hands well away from naked flames or other high temperature heat sources.
- When removing gloves, do so in a way that avoids the contaminated exterior contacting the skin.
- Wash hands after removing gloves.
- Dispose of contaminated gloves properly.
- Do not attempt to re-use disposable gloves.
- Always remove gloves and wash your hands before leaving the laboratory, or when using telephones, computer keyboards, etc.
To summarize, protective gloves are not equally effective for every hazardous chemical. Some chemicals will "break through" the glove material in a very short time. Therefore, glove selection must be based on the specific chemical being used. Glove selection criteria can be found in the following documents: