Gloves and the Jeweler

Gloves are used to prevent skin contact with a hazard, whether physical (like a razor edge on a piece of metal), or chemical (such as an alkaline solution like you get when mixing casting investment). Use the correct type of gloves for the chemical you are using. Not all gloves hold up to the same things so consult a chart to see which ones are suitable to which chemicals.

Edwards comments on this in her paper (61). Even if you have the right kind of glove material for the intended use, be aware that a glove has a life span, and eventually even the chemicals it is resistant to will be able to pass through the material to contact your hand. Consult your local safety supply company catalog for their current recommendations as to which gloves for which chemicals.

Use the Right Glove Material

Employers in industry often mismatch the glove type and chemical hazard inadvertently-and you don’t want to do that to yourself if you are self-employed (Kornberg 94). This is another important reason to try and limit the chemicals and solvents you are working with in the first place. Then you don’t even have to deal with any glove/chemical matching problems.

Gloves, like clothing that protects against chemicals may be made from natural rubber, synthetic rubber, neoprene, vinyl, polypropylene and polytheylene films as well as fabrics coated with these. For the best protection you are looking for a long break-through time, a low permeation rate and little degradation when exposed to the materials you are worried about.

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Wan Abdullah notes these points:

  1. All chemicals will permeate a protective barrier given enough time
  2. Permeation can take place without any visible indication.
  3. A material that protects against one chemical may not protect against another different chemical.
  4. No single protective material is an absolute barrier against all chemicals.
  5. Do not depend on color and appearance when choosing protective materials.
  6. Once a chemical has permeated a protective material, it will continue to pass through the material.
  7. If the protective material is contaminated by breakthrough, it must be decontaminated before being reused or disposed of.
  8. The best way to select the proper chemical protective clothing is to test the material against the chemical(s) you are using. (Wan Zainal Azman Wan Abdullah)

Reduce the need to use gloves; use tweezers and tongs as much as possible to keep your fingers away from exposure to the chemicals, soaps, and solvents you use. Make it a habit to use them. I wear my 8-inch German, stainless steel tweezers in the center pocket of my apron, always at hand when I need them. Keep a pair of tweezers as part of your apron or jumpsuit, then you will be less likely to use your hands when you shouldn’t.

I bet that if you start looking at your behavior with your hands, you can replace at least some of your hand dipping and exposure by tweezer use. Even the “normal” dishwashing liquid and ammonia-with-water solution that jewelers are used to dipping into when removing polishing compounds de-fats the skin, removing the oils, and thus the fatty protection (after all, you are using that mixture because it does so effectively cut greases and oils) and this then makes your skin more liable to react to chemicals and metals in the environment.

Remember some things are cumulative and what has worked for you for years may eventually lead to problems. It is notable that once dermatitus has started wearing rubber gloves can further irritate the previously sensitized skin (Tver and Anderson 90).

When handling materials like nickel silver, or if one has the beginnings of dermatitis on the hands, white cotton gloves can be useful (as long as you don’t use them near machines that can wind you up or into them).

Gloves are also used for purposes other than chemical protection: sometimes one handles hot or sharp materials as well. Blacksmiths like Kevlar® gloves which let you handle really hot materials easily-just don’t get them wet while doing so, as that will immediately steam your hands like a lobster. I have, however, picked up a piece of metal at 800oF(427oC), as a test while using them, and my fingers only got warm. Fairly impressive. There are cut-resistant gloves of all kinds (including Kevlar® ones); check safety catalogs for examples. Fishermen and butchers use various kinds of cut-resistant gloves.

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When working with sheet metal I sometimes use fingerless, leather-palmed bicyclists’ gloves that have Velcro® tabs for quickly taking them off and putting them on. These let me work faster because I don’t have the danger of slicing my palms with the metal. As well as Kevlar® I like the fisherman’s-type chain mail gloves to keep from cutting myself when handling sharp-edged sheets of metal. I’ve heard of engravers using sail-makers’ leather-palmed gloves as protection against slips. Have a look at what you are doing, and there may be a place for protective gloves in your shop for some jobs.

Just don’t use gloves near any polishing machines or other power tools that can suck you in and wind your broken finger parts around them. I know of a few truly repulsive incidents that occurred this way.

Sometimes a “glove box” is a useful method of reducing exposure to chemicals and dusts. This is box with a transparent lid that can open and two holes in each side for gloved hands to enter. An example we are familiar with is the glove box for an abrasive blaster-which keeps the dust and debris isolated in the blaster cabinet. A good glove box will have the arm-length gloves fixed in place on the side of the box. You can insert your hands and mix chemicals or do other slightly dangerous things in a glove box.

You can buy one ready-made or even make one yourself if you build it correctly. I have seen covered, sealed premature baby incubators that would make a good glove box for sale inexpensively at government surplus stores-they even have gloves built in on some of them. Glove boxes also provide a way of dealing with polishing and grinding dusts generated when using the flexible shaft machine. They should be properly vented into a proper dust collection system, as a plain old shop-vac plugged into the back of it may simply blast the tiniest and most hazardous dust particles back into your workspace.

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Some people are allergic to latex, and it is important to know if anyone in your workshop is if they are going to have to don latex gloves for a chemical procedure or a medical emergency. Brain Press’s Katie Harse attended a first aid training session where the instructor told a story about a classmate who went into anaphylactic shock and required EMS assistance and a hospital visit simply because they had put on latex gloves for a practical exam. You might want a pair or two of vinyl gloves in your first aid kit just for this kind of problem. In hospitals, people with latex allergies often wear vinyl gloves under latex ones. You need to know the allergies of anyone working in your shop and list them in the first aid box.

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