Skin and hand protection: do it right!

Skin and hand protection: do it right!

BRIAN MOSELY, technical and R&D manager for the SHOWA Group, writes that as the Covid-19 pandemic has ratcheted up the world’s awareness about skin and hand protection, facility managers have had to approach this virus in ways that others haven’t.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, facility safety managers already faced a complex and ever-changing landscape of potential emergencies and disasters for which to prepare. Today, managers and professionals are rewriting the playbook – if there even was a playbook – to protect workers, facility occupants and even consumers from Covid-19 health risks.

The challenges are multifaceted for manufacturing, healthcare, food processing, government and other facilities that must determine a way to operate safely, and whose frontline workers deliver essential services and goods to the public.

A key area of focus is personal protective equipment (PPE) usage for skin protection, and the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided guidance on wearing gloves, eye/face protection and other PPE.

With regards to gloves, best practices are being matched with innovation to create, for example, higher performance single-use, nitrile gloves that protect workers against Covid-19 and other skin dangers.

In 2016, the International Organization for Standardization revamped its international testing standards for protective gloves against dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms, including viruses, bacteria and funguses. The revised testing measures include three main areas:
• Penetration: gloves should be impervious to cracks or imperfections that would allow chemicals and/or micro-organisms to force their way through and infect a user’s skin.
• Permeation: the measurement of breakthrough times, or how long it takes for the hazardous material to come in contact with the skin after piercing the glove’s surface.
• Degradation: the change in the physical make-up of the glove caused by contact from a certain material. Degradation can be recognised by a change in the gloves’ colour, appearance or texture.

For facility safety managers, it’s important to gain a better understanding of glove requirements, variations in glove protection, and developments in innovation when it comes to the environmental impact of disposable gloves.

Single-use, nitrile gloves have been around since 1991. They were originally developed to solve allergic reactions to natural latex proteins, a common issue during the height of the AIDS pandemic. Nitrile gloves also offer more tensile strength and durability than a traditional natural rubber latex glove, making them an ideal form of protection for first responders, chemical lab workers, and food processors and handlers.

From an environmental standpoint, single-use products come with a catch: they are rarely disposed of correctly. Over one billion gloves are thrown away globally each year. If laid one end to end, that’s 530 trips around the globe. This is a troubling statistic, one that is only going to increase due to the abundance of single-use, nitrile gloves that have been deployed in the fight against Covid-19.

The question facing many facility managers is how they dispose of these gloves in a way that will be environmentally responsible. In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis on green initiatives to be included in the manufacturing of PPE. Companies now have eco-friendly initiatives in place to find PPE made of sustainable materials that do not diminish the quality of the product.

One key technological innovation in nitrile glove manufacturing has been the infusion of biodegradable materials. Once these biodegradable gloves have been disposed of and discarded at active landfill sites, micro-organisms excrete enzymes that break down the bonds of nitrile polymer. Organic soil, water, carbon dioxide and methane are left in the glove’s place. The enriched soil can even foster new plant life.

Studies have shown these materials do not alter nitrile glove’s appearance, elongation or tensile properties. They also maintain the same performance and protection from chemicals, viruses and bacteria. Some test results have shown these products degrade by 60% to 70% in just over a year.

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