Choosing the best gloves for your critical environment

by Bob Bailey

While capital expenditures such as air filtration and pressurized flow systems are the first line of defense against circulating solid and gaseous impurities, a majority of contaminants that end up in direct contact with product materials are generated or conveyed by workers.

Cleanroom gloves that consistently keep your environment in line with industry- and process-specific specs are crucial to product integrity and performance.

If a glove falls short of your need for cost-effective responses to cleanroom requirements, or if it fails a users' needs for comfort, dexterity and protection during extended use, the consequences will undermine your product, your profits and your personnel.

Line up the suspects
Any cleanroom professional can spot the prime suspects for mayhem in a lineup of contaminants that threaten production: particulate matter, extractables, microorganisms, chemicals and electrostatic discharge (ESD).

Because contaminate risks vary by industry, cleanroom glove selection must be customized. Bacteria could spell disaster for this lab worker but have little impact on a hard drive assembly.
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But because contaminant risks vary by industry and process, cleanroom precautions must be customized. An impurity or ESD event that could compromise product performance, eradicate profit or trigger liability claims in the aerospace, data storage, metal, electronics or semiconductor industries may be a non-issue in pharmaceutical, biotech or food operations. Bacteria, for example, spell devastation in a lab that formulates eye drops, but have no direct effect on product in a workroom that assembles hard drives.

To effectively defend against all such possible assaults, critical environment gloves must be carefully matched to tasks and contamination risks.

The best gloves focus on product and people
All told, the potential sources and consequences of hand-related contamination aren't neatly contained by any cleanroom. As Table 1 shows, risks arising from inappropriate or poor-quality gloves swarm in many directions.

Selecting the best glove that meets cleanroom work standards and cost-management objectives can demonstrably safeguard all interests—product, worker, company and user—if the selection process focuses on just two considerations: worker safety and product.

For example, an employee's hands require protection against cuts and potentially debilitating skin irritation from trapped perspiration when working with corrosive liquids and fine saws in an ISO Class 6 cleanroom.

Which set of criteria—technical or human—deserves priority? The answer is both. The best solution is the glove most suited to the risks and applications. In this example, the appropriate absorbent and cut-resistant underliner, coupled with the appropriate corrosive-resistant outer glove, can deliver compliance for superior and reliable product. The proper system can also cut downtime by reducing the number of worker exits and re-entries due to irritation and protect the worker as mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.132 PPE standard [section 38]).

Choosing the best cleanroom glove
Think of great cleanroom hand protection as technically efficient and cost-effective insurance for protecting product, people and profits. Here's a review of features to help you zero in on the best glove solutions for your operation's specific needs.

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Worker compliance: Truth and consequences: Wearing gloves is one of the least popular features of working within a controlled environment. The body and mind tend to resent and resist the presence of anything that interferes with the hand's ability to directly touch and manipulate objects or to feel air against the skin. When hands feel constricted, damp, clumsy or abraded, or when employees literally feel “out of touch” during the production process, the number of worker exits to re-glove and re-group rises, as does lost production time.

While workers in critical environments must wear hand protection, a well-chosen glove can minimize worker aggravation and maximize production, safety and cost savings as well.

Glove basics: A glove's ability to do the job in a cleanroom depends on suitability to task, performance, quality construction and cost containment.

Intended use determines the major categories of suitable critical-environment gloves. As the first, and sometimes only layer against the hand, a quality glove liner is crucial in protecting workers and product from catastrophic damage.

Some 90 percent of ESD events originate with workers. ESD gloves can work with or replace grounding straps in certain settings.
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A liner may also be worn with an outer glove to defend against specific risks. Such pairings are a versatile and economical solution to multiple threats.

Some liners, particularly nylon inspector gloves, work to improve the hand's immediate environment by constantly wicking perspiration from the skin to prevent irritation or improve worker comfort and grasp. This type of liner also shields the hand from the proteins in latex gloves that can provoke serious, even life-threatening, reactions in susceptible individuals.

Cut-resistant products can lessen the incidence or severity of cutting injuries from sharp equipment, instruments or product components. ESD gloves prevent ESD events that can damage product or foster particle buildup. Some 90 percent of ESD events, which can reach 6,000 volts, originate with workers, but it takes as little as 10 volts to damage certain components. ESD gloves can work with or replace grounding straps in some settings

Cost savings: Savings are a natural outcome when the best glove is identified for each cleanroom task. Savvy evaluation of your operation's task-specific needs and corresponding glove features can almost always identify better choices for meeting safety, product and production goals for less than you may already be spending on hand protection.

No matter what applications the gloves might tackle, look for commonsense features that encourage effective use and proper fit. Take into consideration the a wide array of sizes, color-coding to help quickly find the desired sizes in the gowning room, full or half-finger models for greater agility as critical environment specs permit and long cuffs that allow substantial, snug overlap between frock or coverall sleeve and glove. Note, as well, that while ambidextrous models streamline ordering and stocking, “handed gloves” with insert thumbs are an option when optimal dexterity is desired.

Always ask to see every applicable model that might suit your operation and tasks, and take them for a “test drive” in real-work situations within your cleanroom. The manufacturers' reps should be willing to provide samples of every style that might suit your needs. Inspect them, try them on and ask questions.

Try a facility glove analysis
If “glove expert” is not on your personal list of professional achievements, consider taking advantage of a facility glove analysis and let a glove expert bring experience, reliable facts and glove-selecting expertise to your hand-protection protocols.

In an intensive onsite survey, a glove specialist meets with your managers for substantive discussion of cleanroom specs, costs and stats on worker compliance, product failure and other issues that can crush the bottom line. The glove professional then will suit up for a cleanroom walk-through, if permitted, or otherwise directly observe the area and tasks firsthand.

An especially productive aspect of the visit is this chance for the glove analyst to ask workers about their comfort, performance and safety concerns related to glove use. Hosting a facility glove analysis can make your enormous investment in cleanroom protocols pay greater dividends.

Bob Bailey is a critical environment (CE) product manager for Wells Lamont Industry Group of Morton Grove, IL.


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