Worker comfort is a key element to productivity. Worker comfort can be impacted in many ways, some ways not so apparent.
Because hands are primary "tools" used in almost everything workers do, keeping hands dry and at a comfortable temperature can be a critical factor impacting worker productivity. Sweat is an issue in any job. The body loses moisture continuously, even when at rest. Individuals are generally unaware of this loss of moisture until activity levels increase or they work in a warm or humid environment.
Types of perspiration
The human body has millions of sweat glands, with more than half of them located in the hands. During rigorous activity the glands release perspiration to help cool the body to its optimal temperature range. Perspiration is a natural reaction to heat and humidity. Each person has two types of sweat glands: apocrine and eccrine. Apocrine glands secrete the type of perspiration readily associated with body odour – a reaction caused by the sweat coming into contact with the normal bacterial flora living on the skin.
Eccrine glands, on the other hand, produce perspiration primarily composed of salt, electrolytes and water. These glands are located throughout the body, with one of the densest concentrations in the palms.
Consequences of unmanaged perspiration
Perspiration is particularly an issue when workers wear chemical protective work gloves because most gloves designed to protect against chemicals are made of liquid resistant polymer formulations that do not readily allow moisture and heat to dissipate.
Individuals may require chemical protection in manufacturing environments where they come into contact with coated parts, in maintenance applications with cleaning agents or in chemical plants where they handle corrosive materials. Sweaty hands are also a concern in applications with temperature extremes – including distillation towers, hydrocracking and heat transfer fluids – and in hot climates where hand heat builds up inside the chemical protective gloves.
When the hands become hot and sweaty, a worker's first reaction may be to remove the gloves. Glove removal results in non-compliance and exposes hands to chemicals and other hazards.
Sweat build-up on the inside of a glove may adversely affect the skin. Although the outer layers of the skin can reabsorb sweat, the re-absorption process reduces the skin's barrier properties, which can result in more rapid penetration of chemicals present in the work environment or inside the glove.
When workers remove their hot sweaty gloves and lose the protection offered by the PPE, the moisture level in the skin requires time to return to normal levels. Again, the skin's barrier properties are reduced during this transition to a more comfortable dry condition.
Sweat also impacts dexterity and may cause the gloves to stick to the fingers or bind at flex points such as the knuckles. Workers will find it difficult to grasp and pick up objects, which may result in other injuries if individuals are unable to control objects or drop the part they are handling.
The need to manage moisture
During global research conducted by Ansell, 61 per cent of respondents named perspiration as a "significant problem". Corresponding research confirmed workers are more likely to remove their gloves entirely when the gloves become soaked with sweat.
Workers who handle chemicals must have gloves that protect them from potentially hazardous agents. They also need comfortable hand protection that enhances their ability to grasp equipment and manipulate their work product, which can result in greater overall performance.
Among the chemical protective gloves offered in the past, none effectively managed moisture.
New technology to manage perspiration
Concern about perspiration build-up and its impact on worker hands led to the development of new moisture management technology that keeps hands drier for significantly longer periods. Gloves incorporating the technology feature a two layered coating construction, combining nitrile film for advanced chemical protection with an inner open celled foam structure that reduces sweat build-up inside the glove.
The soft inner foam coating mimics a highly absorbent sponge, providing 10 times the absorption capacity compared to traditional cotton-flocked linings. Moisture drains away from the skin surface into a type of reservoir, and the reservoir keeps the hands dry up to the capacity limits. The nitrile compound is durable and offers more snag, puncture and abrasion resistance than either rubber or neoprene and protects against bases, oils, fuels, solvents and esters in medium and heavy duty applications.
Gloves incorporating the technology are applicable for most tasks requiring chemical protection. Product users should conduct all appropriate testing or other evaluations to determine the suitability of Ansell products for a particular purpose or use within a particular environment.
Preliminary on-the-job testing revealed positive responses to the new technology, with 87 per cent of end-users indicating gloves incorporating the technology reduced perspiration and improved performance.
A safety manager within a machinery and equipment facility in the United States said workers commented the glove interior was more comfortable during hot weather because their hands were no longer slimy from sweat as with their previous hand protection.
Workers at a US chemical plant reported the gloves felt cooler and improved their ability to pick up objects. Glove users at a machinery and equipment plant in Germany commented that while the glove material appeared stronger, the hands perspired less and there was less odour.