Janitorial and sanitation workers face daily hazards from the chemicals they use to clean. Harmful chemicals can be found in glass, metal, and other cleaners, including hydrofluoric acid, nitrilotriacetate, and phosphoric acid.
The second hazard comes from contact with bloodborne pathogens. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration established its Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens Standard way back in 1992 to ensure that workers are protected. While it was initially intended for health-care workers, it is relevant to jan/san employees as well.
Considering these risks, janitorial employees need a barrier to protect themselves. The safety glove market is estimated at $2 billion annually and is continuing to grow. Evidence suggests that the opportunity will only continue to grow and that the glove market could triple by 2023.
Janitorial and sanitation tasks require frequent glove changes between tasks. If they are cleaning toilets in a facility, for instance, they should don a new pair of gloves before they clean sinks to avoid transferring pathogens and chemicals from one to the other. Often-harsh cleaning chemicals also demand hand protection.
With these considerations in mind, here are some of the glove materials typically used in the janitorial industry:
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or vinyl, gloves are most commonly used in jan/san applications. They are an inexpensive alternative to latex and nitrile gloves.
Vinyl gloves can be purchased in powdered or powder-free and exam- or industrial-grade variations. This gives janitorial staff members options to find the right level of protection for their work environments. Exam-grade gloves, for example, are for applications involving exposure to bodily fluids and go through special testing at the factory level that is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Vinyl gloves can withstand hydrofluoric, phosphoric, and 10 percent concentrated nitric acid, among other chemicals typically present in janitorial applications. You should always confirm by conducting chemical resistance on-site testing of any glove before use.
Nitrile and latex
These two glove materials are also used for janitorial applications.
Nitrile gloves provide superior chemical resistance and stand up to harmful solvents such as 38 percent concentrated hydrochloric acid, 2-butoxyethanol, and sodium hypochlorite. As always, perform on-site chemical resistance testing of any glove before use. These latex-free gloves are made from a durable synthetic rubber that is highly resistant to punctures and tears, perfect for heavier duty tasks.
Lightweight nitrile gloves are another option, especially for tasks that require frequent glove changes. They provide dependable chemical protection while also delivering levels of comfort, tactile sensitivity, and dexterity that are not as prevalent in heavier gloves.
Natural rubber latex gloves also stand up to many of the chemicals common in the janitorial industry, especially those that are water-soluble, and they provide strong tear and puncture resistance. Latex gloves are not as widely used of the growing commonality of sensitivity to latex proteins. Repeated exposure to the material can lead someone to develop a latex allergy. Reactions can range from dermatitis to anaphylaxis.