Although our hands are vital to our work, some of us neglect to protect them properly. Unlike exposure injuries such as respirable crystalline silica in the lungs, hand injuries are immediately apparent. That's because the hands are home to some of the densest clusters of nerve endings in the body. These nerve endings enable the hand to perform remarkable tasks such as reading Braille. They're also the reason hand injuries are so painful. Although we have reviewed gloves, we have never discussed the many types of work gloves and how to choose the right one for you. We decided to tackle just that with this handy guide.
Quick Article Summary
- Learn about requirements for glove types
- Leather, canvas or metal mesh protects against cuts, burns and sustained heat or cold
- Fabrics and fabric coatings provide better protection against abrasion
- Chemical and liquid resistant, prevents chemical absorption and burns
- Insulating rubber prevents conduction and electrical burns
- Helpful Features: Knuckle Pads, Hook and Loop Wrist, Grip Surface, Washability
Practical rules for choosing from the many types of work gloves
Although some state regulations exist, OSHA only specifies that employers provide hand protection:
- Harmful substances absorbed by the skin
- severe cuts or lacerations
- badly scratched
- chemical burn
- thermal burn
- harmful extreme temperature
The broad nature of the guidance follows the many different substances and hazards present on the job site. Suffice it to say that protection must be commensurate with risk. You may find OSHA's PPE guidance especially helpful. Another helpful sharp object protection guide is the 2016 ANSI Cut Resistance Guide.
find the glove of your life
Hands can be threatened in a number of ways. The type, nature, duration and temperature of exposure are important. You can also check out Immersion vs. Splash when it comes to liquidity risk. Finally, the sharpness of the material and its ability to pierce gloves also play a role. OSHA divides gloves into four groups: 1) leather, canvas, or metal mesh; 2) fabric and fabric-coated; 3) chemical and liquid resistant, and 4) insulating rubber.
Having said that, OSHA is missing out on many more gloves, from nitrile gloves to the newest cut-resistant gloves. We will try to cover many types of work gloves in a way that details the protection, advantages, and disadvantages of each.
Leather Work Gloves
Leather gloves tend to be thicker than most other styles of gloves. They do a great job of protecting against cuts, burns, and sustained high or low temperatures. That's probably why welders use them exclusively. Leather gloves provide great grip, making them great for landscaping work as well.
The difference between leather welding gloves and the ones you might wear when pruning trees has to do with the thickness of the leather, how soft it is, and whether it's still lined. Leather glorified gloves tend to be thinner leather that resists punctures and abrasions. However, it won't stop a small piece of superheated steel flying around.
The downside of leather gloves is that they dry out and crack over time. This happens faster if you put them out in the sun (or on the seat of a work truck). If you're using them outdoors in the summer, you really want to make sure you get a pair that is breathable or uses a combination material.
Also, when we say "leather" gloves, we may also mean synthetic leather or PVC gloves that offer similar protection. However, genuine leather remains our favorite — and it comes at a hefty price tag.
Cut Resistant Work Gloves
Cut resistant gloves come in many forms. Many involve weaving Kevlar into the fabric. Others are utilizing similar types of cut-resistant technology to turn otherwise lightweight fabric gloves into more protective devices. Cut-resistant gloves not only protect against abrasions, but also for direct contact with razor blades, metal plates, and other sources of cuts.
What we find fascinating about cut resistant gloves is that they come in so many different styles and forms. For example, the lightest gloves include silicon-reinforced fibers woven directly into the yarn glove. This allows the glove to provide great cut resistance while maintaining great flexibility.
You can also find cut-resistant gloves, which are also puncture-resistant thanks to a thick coating in the palm area. and fingers. These offer reasonable dexterity while bringing a level of cut and puncture resistance you might previously have thought could only be achieved with thick leather.
Chemical and Liquid Resistant Latex Work Gloves
When it comes to resistance to hazardous chemicals and liquids, latex work gloves reign supreme. These gloves are chemical and liquid resistant to prevent absorption and chemical burns. These types of gloves include butyl, natural/latex, neoprene, and nitrile.
Manufacturers often provide chemical resistance charts to help you choose the right gloves for the chemicals or fluids you use frequently.
Apart from this, disposable nitrile gloves also fall into this category and are often used by auto mechanics. They keep oil and fluids out of your hands and save a lot of time and cleanup during and after work. Be aware of the military grade of these gloves when purchasing. That will tell you the thickness.
If you're dealing with aggressive chemicals or just need something more durable, you'll need to match the material and thickness to ensure you have adequate protection.
Editor's note: Check out our article on the difference between nitrile gloves and latex gloves for more information.
insulating rubber gloves
Insulated rubber gloves protect against conduction and electrical burns. Make sure the gloves meet the current rating. Right now, linemen — and those with similar needs for this type of glove — can choose from a variety of grades. Most gloves are tested multiple times and come from factories meeting the highest quality and safety standards.
You'll also need factory-tested electrical gloves when dealing with high voltages. They need to comply with EN/IEC or ASTM standards. Many companies also offer locally tested products that include date stamps and are serialized for traceability.
Protective or padded work gloves
Cut resistance and insulation aside, sometimes you just need a pair of gloves to protect your hands. For that, we like padded gloves, which include rubber protection points for the knuckles and fingers. These gloves come in a variety of styles and levels of protection. Make it a habit to try on a few pairs to see which suits you.
As it turns out, combining flexibility with padding can often prove difficult. Manufacturers who blend the two produce gloves that combine comfort, dexterity, and protection. We were impressed by the variety of products, but some of our favorites include:
- Armored Work Gloves (almost all)
- Gearwrench Heavy Impact Work Gloves
- Milwaukee Performance Work Gloves
- Klein Tools Journeyman Leather Utility Gloves
- Pyramex Safety Leather and Rubberized Gloves
Our Favorite Work Glove Features
Safety and comfort go hand in hand (pun intended). Here are some more considerations before you make your choice.
When a wrench slips or a fastener suddenly comes loose, you'll rarely regret putting extra padding on your knuckles or the back of your hands. Key considerations include how much you want and whether it shows up as thicker material or a rubber pad.
Smart Slide Terry Cloth Pad
One of the greatest inventions in modern "glove history" has to include the terry cloth sweat towel. This simple invention easily removes sweat from your brow or eyes and continues to work unimpeded. This may sound trivial – but when you can see because of sweat in your eyes, you're prone to accidents and mistakes. This feature is really helpful.
For extra security, consider hook-and-loop closures (aka Velcro) at the wrists. This often happens with padded work gloves, but not with leather or any nitrile gloves.
Some gloves have a rubberized non-slip material for extra grip. Food grips do help with material handling — especially metal. We like the combination of cut protection with a grippy rubber coating to reduce the chance of cuts.
The washability of gloves cannot be ignored. Smelling worn-out gloves can be…well, very unpleasant. Make sure your work gloves are easy to clean without compromising performance.
No matter what glove you choose, first make sure you are overprotected for the situations you typically encounter on the job, and then make sure it provides a high level of comfort and dexterity. If you do, there's a good chance you'll be counting your blessings at the end of the day. We hope this helps you answer "What kind of work gloves do I need?" If you're a pro and have glove tips, please add them in the comments below, or drop us a line on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!