Prevention is better than cure - arm and hand protection in industry

Published: 01st Aug 2010

In industry, there are many and varying hazards and risks that if left uncontrolled could have the potential to cause harm to people, property and/or the environment. The greater the hazard potential, the higher the degree of risk will be.

For this reason it is vitally important that we carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments of all hazardous activities of our undertaking. This is not only a legal requirement but also makes good business sense! If a business does not take stock of its vulnerabilities, be they safety, health, environment or any other potential business risk for that matter, there will at some point be a loss. The degree of loss could be minor or substantial, depending on the circumstances, but a loss nonetheless - and any loss could well be detrimental to the business.

When we discuss loss in terms of safety and health, we are often talking about injury to personnel or damage to property.

This article is going to focus on the protection of the hands and arms in industrial environments and will discuss the different measures that can be taken to prevent injury to the hands and arms, along with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be used.

Where a risk assessment reveals that employees face potential injury to hands and arms that cannot be eliminated through other means, employers must ensure that employees are provided with and use appropriate PPE. Potential risks from hazardous processes include skin absorption of harmful substances, chemical or thermal burns, electrical hazards, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures and amputations.

Protective equipment includes gloves, finger guards and arm coverings or elbow-length gloves.

Employers should explore all possible engineering and work practice controls to eliminate hazards and use PPE to provide additional protection against hazards that cannot be completely eliminated through other means. For example, machine guards may eliminate a hazard. Installing a barrier to prevent workers from placing their hands at the point of contact between a table saw blade and the item being cut is another method.

PPE is used throughout industry as a means of safeguarding workers from a wide range of health and safety hazards at work, such as exposure to toxic substances or extreme temperatures, being struck by falling objects, or being splashed by chemicals/molten metal.

Work carried out as part of a PPM Programme, or emergency repairs within a facility will almost certainly require the use of some form of PPE for protection of an employee. The appropriate PPE for the given task or situation must always be identified following the completion of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, taking into consideration the human factors involved in the job e.g. the personal characteristics of the person carrying out the task, the environment?in which the job is taking place, and the policies and procedures set by the organisation for the management of Health and Safety in the facility.

Due to the nature of PPE, each type brings with it a variety of problems that must be addressed via adequate training if workers are to fully understand its uses and limitations. It must be made clear, however, that PPE is not a universal solution to all safety needs, but must only be used as a last resort.

The reason for this is because although PPE can offer essential protection to an individual carrying out a hazardous work activity, the hazard itself will still be present in the workplace. So while it is necessary to issue and wear PPE, the introduction of other control measures, such as engineering controls, reduce the sole reliance on PPE.

The hierarchy of control measures must be applied before deciding on the use of PPE. Firstly, can the risk be eliminated by removing the hazard? If not, can it be substituted for one less risky? If not, can the aforementioned engineering controls be introduced to control the risk at source? If not, information, instruction, training and supervision must be provided. And, as stated, as a last resort - e.g. the Last Line of Defence - Personal Protective Equipment must be provided. In reality, near always a combination of control measures will be used.

PPE can be summarily classified as an individual’s protection of his head, eyes, hearing, lungs, hands, feet or body generally by the means of specially designed devices and/or implements.

As stated above, PPE should always be considered to be the last choice method of protecting the worker against a hazard and not the first. These approaches may not completely eliminate all hazards, and PPE will more often than not have to be issued to and used by the workers for protection in conjunction with other control measures, stated in the hierarchy of controls stated above.

The marking and maintenance of PPE must be in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions, or in such a way that the materials or methods used do not affect the integrity of the equipment.

The use of PPE in industry in the Emirate of Dubai is mandatory under Local Order No 61 of 1991, Chapter 4, Personal Protective Equipment. Failure to provide and maintain PPE by any company may result in fines and other punitive measures being incurred.

Types of protective gloves

There are many types of gloves available today to protect against a wide variety of hazards. The nature of the hazard and the operation involved will affect the selection of gloves. The variety of potential occupational hand injuries makes selecting the right pair of gloves challenging. It is essential that employees use gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace, because gloves designed for one function may not protect against a different function, even though they may appear to be an appropriate protective device.

The following are examples of some factors that may influence the selection of protective gloves for a workplace.

Hand and arm protection compliance with national standards

There currently are no set standards for glove selection in the Middle East; therefore, selection must be based on the performance characteristics of the glove in relation to the tasks to be performed. Suppliers and manufacturers may provide compliance guidelines or references based on recognised international standards, such as the BS, ANSI or DIN.

Generally in the UAE British and American Standards are quoted by PPE suppliers as being the ‘best in the class’ when it comes to quality of the product.

General requirements

Hand and arm protection must be selected and used when personnel may be exposed to certain hazards, such as:

• Working with harmful substances, dry or liquid, that can be absorbed through the skin, or that can cause skin irritation, chemical burns, or similar conditions. Examples would include strong acids/bases, toxic or corrosive materials, organic solvents, and radioactive materials

• Working with tools, equipment, or materials that can cause cuts, lacerations, punctures, fractures, amputations, or abrasions

• Working while exposed to materials or agents that can cause thermal burns or that expose the employee to harmful temperatures

• Working when exposed to blood or other potentially infectious agents

• Working on live electrical systems or components. Additional training is required for the use of electrical protective equipment

The best place to start when selecting gloves for a task is to compare the exposure hazards to the protective qualities of the gloves available from your supplier.

Many tasks will involve multiple hazards, and the glove selected should either protect against all of the hazards,?or?more than one type of glove may have to be worn. A common example of this is when leather gloves (cut/puncture/abrasion resistant) are worn over voltage-rated rubber gloves. Certain chemical and/or radiation hazards may require double gloving (of the same type).

Types of hand/arm protection

There are several categories of gloves.

Disposable gloves - Perfect for one-time use situations. Thin for improved sensitivity and dexterity. Provides wearer protection against materials, or protects the material from the handler. Available in a variety of materials and for a variety of tasks.

Critical-environment gloves - Used in applications that require extreme cleanliness, such as in the electronic, nuclear, and pharmaceutical industries.

Chemical-resistant gloves - Protect against specified chemicals and liquids, also protect against abrasion, cuts, punctures, and snags. Generally, any ‘chemical-resistant’ glove can be used for dry powders. (See additional information provided later in this section).

General-purpose gloves - Intended to help reduce hand injuries from snags, punctures, abrasions, and cuts.

Coated gloves - Nitrile and natural rubber coated gloves are often used as substitutes for leather gloves. They offer superior hand protection in wet environments where dexterity is important.

Cut-resistant gloves - Available in a wide variety of materials, including metal-mesh, Kevlar, aluminised. Protect against cuts and scrapes in the food industry, as well as general warehousing.

Puncture-resistant gloves - Available in a wide variety of materials. Puncture-resistant gloves protect against most sharp objects, including glass, metal, and needle sticks. No glove is completely puncture-proof, nor can gloves be expected to take the place of proper engineering or work practice controls.

Anti-vibration/impact gloves - Protection from vibration or impact from tools and equipment. Help prevent hand, finger, and arm fatigue.

Leather gloves - Qualities of leather include comfort, durability, dexterity, mild heat resistance, and abrasion resistance. Good all-purpose glove.

Hand and arm protection during welding

All forms of welding present a degree of risk from burns. Sparks, spatter and non ionising radiation are all present during this process. The position of the welding taking place e.g. overhead, horizontal or vertical welding will determine what type of PPE must be worn. Temperature-resistant gloves - Provide protection from high temperatures as well as cold.

Leather, Kevlar, cotton terrycloth, cryogenic gloves, rubber, Nomex, Zetex, and Flextra are some common materials used in this type of glove. Includes welding gloves.

Lineman’s gloves - Protection for utility workers. To assure adequate electrical protection, choose the properly rated lineman’s gloves and protectors for your application. Additional training from EHSS is required.

Selection of PPE for hand and arm protection

Before purchasing gloves, the employee must review the work activities taking place to determine the degree of dexterity required, the duration, frequency, and degree of exposure to the hazard, and the physical stresses that will be applied. Hand protection must be selected based upon a review of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use, and the existing and potential hazards identified.

There are several factors to consider when selecting suitable gloves, such as size, the type of cuff, lining, and length and the degree of protection afforded by the particular item.


Gloves come in sizes ranging from small to XX-large. It is important to provide a selection of sizes to employees so that a proper fit is obtained. Gloves that are too small will cause fatigue and gloves that are too large may create dexterity issues, entanglement hazards, or may affect protective qualities.

Cuff type

Pinked cuff - A zigzag finished appearance commonly found on knit-lined rubber gloves.

Rolled cuff - Gives additional cuff strength and a finished appearance. Acts as a barrier to keep chemicals from running off glove onto skin.

Straight cuff - Provides a snug fit to protect from chemical runoff and skin contact.

Gauntlet cuff - Extended length protects wrist area. Slides on and off easily. Allows for maximum movement of forearm. This form of protection is favourable for welding and other allied processes.

Lining type

Unlined - Gives better sensitivity and dexterity than lined gloves. Required where particle contamination is a concern. Powdered unlined gloves make on/off easier and increase comfort, but may be an irritant to some individual users.

Flock-lined - Shredded fibre, usually cotton, applied to the inside surface of the glove material. Absorbs perspiration. Easy on/off.

Knit-lined - Cotton or synthetic material bonded to the inside surface of a glove. Absorbs perspiration, adds some temperature protection.

Jersey-lined - Softest, most comfortable lining. Gives additional temperature protection and greater cushioning effect.


Finger cots - worn on the fingers alone when minimal or no protection is required.

9 - 12 inches provides complete hand protection.

12 - 18 inches provides hand, forearm to elbow protection for immersion or extra splash protection.

24 - 31 inches provides full arm immersion protection.


The type of chemical(s) to be handled or used

The frequency and duration of the task for chemical contact. Different chemicals will affect the protective qualities of a glove in different ways. The following must be considered when carrying out the specific risk assessment for tasks involving the use, preparation or disposal of hazardous substances.

Breakthrough time : The time it takes for the chemical to pass to the inside of the glove. Some gloves are not recommended for certain chemicals. Some specify a time limit before chemical breakthrough of the glove material is detected. Some do not detect a breakthrough (under laboratory test conditions). Follow manufacturer guidelines or supplier ‘Chemical Compatibility Guides’ for additional information.

Permeation : If a chemical will pass through a glove material.

Degradation : How the chemical will affect the physical properties of the glove material upon contact. Degradation can lead to softening, drying, swelling, shrinkage, or other undesirable side effects that could expose the employee to the chemical.

The ability of the chemical to penetrate through the glove must be determined.

Latex/natural rubber does not hold up well to organic solvents, oils, greases, or fuels such as kerosene or gasoline.

Nitrile is ideal for stripping and degreasing, chemical washing, and is resistant to animal fats and vegetable oils. Nitrile does not contain latex that causes skin allergies.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) provides excellent resistance to most acids, fats, and petroleum hydrocarbons.

Neoprene is strong and durable and provides excellent chemical resistance. Note: Check ‘Chemical Compatibility Guides’ for specific chemical and glove materials recommended.

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) has an extremely high resistance to aliphatics, aromatics, chlorinated solvents, esters, and ketones. PVA quickly breaks down when exposed to water and light alcohols.

Butyl provides excellent chemical resistance to gases and ketones. It is ideal for handling hazardous materials. Butyl is severely affected by fuels and aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbon solvents.

Viton is the most resistant of all, and provides high-temperature, fuel-resistance. Recommended for working with extremely hazardous chemicals, such as carcinogenic or highly toxic chemicals.

Silver-shield provides excellent chemical resistance and is commonly used for hazardous materials work, or work involving multiple chemical hazards.

Mixtures and formulated products (unless specific test data is available) require that gloves should be selected based on the chemical component with the shortest breakthrough time, since it’s possible for solvents to carry active ingredients through some glove materials. When changing at the end of the work period, personnel must remove the gloves in such a manner as to prevent skin contamination.

Determine if the task will involve splash hazards, and ensure that adequate protection is used.

Consider the concentration of the chemical(s).

Consider the temperature of the chemical(s).

Consider abrasion, cut, puncture, tear-resistance, and grip requirements.

For work involving chemicals where there is a skin absorption hazard, double gloving of the appropriate type may be necessary.

• Type of chemicals handled

• Nature of contact (total immersion, splash)

• Duration of contact

• Area requiring protection (hand only, forearm, arm)

• Grip requirements (dry, wet, oily)

• Thermal protection

• Size and comfort

• Abrasion/resistance requirements Gloves made from a wide variety of materials are designed for many types of workplace hazards. In general, gloves fall into four groups:

• Gloves made of leather, canvas or metal mesh

• Fabric and coated fabric gloves

• Chemical and liquid-resistant gloves

• Alternatives for workers who are allergic to latex gloves



Tony Potter H&S Services is a new company formed to provide quality health and safety training, advisory, audit and consultancy services. As well as being highly experienced in the effective development and implementation of all elements of modern Health & Safety Management Systems, there is also a wealth of experience in the delivery of courses accredited by NEBOSH and IOSH.

As Principal Consultant, Tony Potter is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and has extensive experience in the heavy engineering, marine and the oil and gas industries.

Tony Potter H&S Services brings together through experienced and qualified individuals, a broad range of occupational health and safety services.


Telephone: +44 (0)7909 962543

Published: 01st Aug 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East