How clean are your industrial work gloves?
It’s probably something that you never thought of before right? They come out of the packet so they have to be clean. No one has ever used them. So if I take a new glove every time they must be ok, shouldn’t they? Don’t take this for granted as allot of the gloves today contain residue chemicals left in the glove from the production process. This is not meant to be a rocky horror article rather to assist you in making a more informed choice and we’ll start with leather.
The cleanliness issue — The problem is quite wide spread so say studies such as the ones carried out by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (BGFA) at the Ruhr University in Bochum (Germany) and the Danish Technological Institute for the Environment.
The BGFA found that 45% of the leather gloves tested Cr(VI) impurities were detected with Cr (III) tanning agents despite the fact that most modern tanning agents are free from large amounts of Cr(VI). Likewise the Danish Technological Institute for the Environment found 35% of the leather gloves tested contained Cr(VI) in levels above the acceptable parts per million guides for harmful ingredients.
So why do studies like these draw attention to the potential harm? To address this question we will step back into the process of preparing the animal hide.
How are they made?
In order to transform an animal hide into something that can be sewn into a work glove it has to pass through something called a tanning process. It’s at this stage that the collagen fibers within the hide are attacked by chemicals such as, for example, chromium / tannins. These chemicals are used to detach the fat from skin before being dried and finished according to its intended use. Other chemicals can also be used depending on the skin that is being treated. But there are vegetable tanning processes so this shouldn’t be a risk should it?
It is estimated that chrome tanning accounts for some 90% of tanning production in the United States and approximately 80% worldwide. Why? It’s simple. Leather produced using this method (chrome) produces leather that is softer, more pliable, possesses a higher thermal stability and has a greater stability in water. It also takes significantly less time versus the vegetable method so contribution to revenue and profit for the tanner themselves.
Chromium and the human body
As a result of the way the chromium binds the collagen fibres there is inevitably some residual chromium contained in the leather fibres of the hind and consequently gloves. This will vary from manufacture to manufacture however it is estimated that around as much as 4 to 5 percent is left in the glove.
The most likely adverse effect appears to be contact dermatitis which occurs human hand sweats causing chromium content to be leached from the leather itself which in sufficient amounts causes a contact allergy. Since professional work gloves are worn for long periods of time on a daily basis the chance of exposure to Cr(VI), if it is present in the glove, is high.
Chromium is, in fact, one of the most common contact sensitizers in males in industrialised countries. Dermal exposure to chromium has been demonstrated to produce allergic and irritant contact dermatitis. Irritant dermatitis is caused by the direct cytotoxic properties of chromium and allergic contact is an inflammatory response controlled by the immune system.
Allergic dermatitis associated with chromium is characterised by swelling, papules, dryness, scaling and fissuring. In terms of mechanism, chromium is first absorbed into the skin, producing a response from the immune system (sensitization). Affected individuals will exhibit an allergic dermatitis response when chromium exposure exceeds a threshold level.
If I stop using leather gloves and start using synthetic gloves will everything be OK?
The simple and direct answer to that is NO. You always need to check any glove you are using even if it is from one of the large manufacturers. Extra attention should be given if you are choosing / using leather and / or polyurethane gloves. This is not to say that leather and PU gloves aren’t safe however given there are many cheap imports on the market you have to investigate further to understand how clean they are before using them.
What’s the problem with Polyurethane gloves — There are multiple issues in the manufacturing and use of the solvent-based polyurethane gloves relating to:
- The levels of water used in the manufacturing process to try and clean as much DMF AND THF off the glove.
- The inhalation and skin contact with DMF AND THF for the people working in the factories manufacturing these solvent-based polyurethane gloves.
- The health effects for users of this type of glove. These health effects relate not only to the direct skin contact where the glove covers the hand but also to other parts of the body should DMF AND THF become absorbed into the bloodstream.
What does DMF AND THF do to the human body?
The scientific evidence is inconclusive regarding the effect and the magnitude of DMF AND THF on humans, as these gloves have only been used industrially for just over a decade. However, laboratory animal research can shed some cautionary light on guidelines for human usage. In the laboratory animal, chronic exposure has shown reproductive and fetal effects. When used on a regular and acute basis, the absorption of DMF AND THF through human skin may cause dermatological issues, liver problems, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.
The risk of wearing contaminated gloves with very high levels of DMF AND THF over a standard working shift can be significant. If you use these types of gloves, it is essential to take note that the necessary testing and safeguards are put into place to ensure the safe levels of parts million. The safe limits are 10 parts per million for people using the glove for eight hours and 20 parts per million for uses of up to 15 minutes.
DMF AND THF and THF has the potential to be the next asbestos. Used extensively by manufacturers and builders, asbestos was deemed to be safe. However, asbestos destroyed the health of many people and many lost their lives due to the cancer-causing elements inherent in asbestos.
So what should i look for when choosing a glove?
Most of the larger gloves manufacturers have an environmental policy registered to the global ISO 14000 standard which represents the core set of standards used by the organisation for designing and implementing an effective environmental management system. It is primarily at a macro-level and a good indicator of green credentials. But how does this translate into the glove you use?
The new EU REACH directive, explained later, can be seen as the next level of safety. However, the most important label to look for is the Oeko-Tex® 100 standard that certifies the product to be “skin friendly.”
Oeko-Tex® 100 Standard
The was introduced at the beginning of the 1990s as a response to the needs of the general public for textiles which posed no risk to health. “Poison in textiles” and other negative headlines were widespread at this time and indiscriminately branded all chemicals across the board used in textile manufacturing as negative and dangerous to health.
Up until the introduction of the Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 there was no reliable product label for consumers to assess the human ecological quality of textiles nor a uniform safety standard for companies within the textile and clothing industry which enabled a practical assessment of potential harmful substances in textile products. The Austrian Textile Research Institute (ÖTI) and the German Research Institute Hohenstein therefore jointly developed the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 on the basis of their existing test standards.
The testing and certification system of the Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 satisfies the many and varied requirements consumers make of modern textile products and at the same time takes into account the complex production conditions in the textile industry. The key objectives of Oeko-Tex are:
- Manufacturing textile products of all types that are harmless to humans.
- Simplifying and accelerating terms of delivery for manufacturers and retailers who wish to offer their customers textile products which pose no risk whatsoever to health.
- A reliable product label for consumers who specifically aim to buy textiles which are harmless to their health.
Confidence in textiles has been the motto of the independent test institutes of the International Oeko-Tex® Association since 1992. The philosophy and standard has found its way into the glove business with companies such as Marigold-Comasec and Uvex certifying some gloves within their product range. ATG goes further by certifying all products in the product range to the Oeko-Tex 100 standard making it the only manufacturer within the glove business to have full “skin friendly” range.
“Skin friendly” products carry the Oeko-Tex® confidence in textiles which is a sure way to ensure that you are not exposed to harmful substances such as DMF AND THF.
Oeko-Tex affords the end-user the security that the glove is safe but what guarantees are there for the protection of human health when the glove is being made? Does the new REACH directive have the answers?
The new EU REACH directive
REACH is a new European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (EC 1907/2006). It deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of CHemical substances. This new law entered into force on 1 June 2007.
The aim of REACH is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. At the same time, innovative capability and competitiveness of the chemical industry should also be enhanced. The benefits of the REACH system will come gradually, as more and more substances are phased into REACH.
This regulation gives greater responsibility to the industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. Manufacturers and importers will be required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances, which will allow their safe handling, and to register the information in a central database run by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki.
The Agency will act as the central point in the REACH system: it will manage the databases necessary to operate the system, coordinate the in-depth evaluation of suspicious chemicals and run a public database in which consumers and professionals can find hazard information. This regulation also calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals when suitable alternatives have been identified.
One of the main reasons for developing and adopting the REACH Regulation was that a large number of substances have been manufactured and placed on the market for many years, sometimes in very high amounts, and yet there is insufficient information on the hazards they pose to human health and the environment. There is a need to fill these information gaps to ensure that industry is able to assess hazards and risks of the substances, and to identify and implement the risk management measures to protect humans and the environment. Within the gloves business, ATG has been an early adopter and is now fully compliant with the new REACH directive.
Is there more the authorities can do?
Broad steps have already been made. On the 13th August 2010, the 18th amendment of the Consumer Goods Ordinance in Germany came into force, which requires the elimination of Cr(VI) from all consumer goods made of leather, and which are intended for more than temporary contact with the skin, such as gloves. Given that Germany has a major part to play in the European norms this has to be seen as a good step.
The directive for personal protective equipment, directive 89686/EEC, which belongs to a family of directives under article 114 intended to harmonize products ensuring a high level of protection for citizens and free circulation throughout Europe is under revision.
The revision of this important directive is foreseen to be launched in 2013, is an opportunity to move further in the right direction by adding the Oeko-Tex 100 standard. It must however become part of the legislation in order to make it mandatory for manufacturers to develop products with this in mind. However, changes in legislation can take several years, so what should one do right now when evaluating and choosing a glove?
How can ATG help?
You can choose from the focused range of ATG gloves with confidence as all our gloves are manufactured in accordance with the new REACH European Community Regulation on chemicals (EC 1907/2006) and are yearly tested and in accordance with the Oeko-Tex 100 standard. In addition to the ISO 9001 certification ATG also has ISO 14001 accreditation.