Latex Gloves and Embalming: What will OSHA think?
In an inter-laboratory study, six glove materials were evaluated for permeation resistance to formaldehyde in 9 percent w/w and 37 percent w/w aqueous solutions. Three of the materials were natural rubber latex taken from “surgeon's” gloves (approximately 0.17 mm in thickness). For both formaldehyde concentrations, the natural rubber specimens exhibited breakthrough times ranging from 1 to 15 minutes, depending on the analytical technique used for detection and, perhaps, the glove material. Permeation rates were in the range of 0.1 to 1 μg/cm2/min. The results for specimens from a polyvinyl chloride glove (0.16 mm) and a polyethylene glove (0.05 mm) were similar to those of the latex gloves. Only the sixth material, taken from a prototype neoprene glove (0.25 mm), consistently yielded breakthrough times greater than one hour with permeation rates approximating 0.01 μg/cm2/min (Schwope, et al, 1988).
Glove movement can also affect chemical permeation of organic compounds through polymer glove products. However, conflicting reports make it difficult to compare the effects of movement on chemical permeation through commonly available glove types. In a study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Phalen and Wong (2014) aimed to evaluate the effect of movement on chemical permeation of an organic solvent through disposable latex, nitrile, and vinyl gloves. In this investigation, latex was the clear winner when testing the polymer’s ability to withstand glove movement. Still, the permeation was not acceptable, falling into the range previously stated.
The data from the inter-laboratory study and that of glove movement and its ability to compromise the permeability of a polymer glove, one needs to focus on the dates of the studies – 1988 and 2014. As a Licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer of 20+ years, I am quite shocked that the funeral industry has continued to use latex gloves for the embalming process. If the exhibited breakthrough times range from 1 to 15 minutes with aqueous formaldehyde in 9% and 37% solutions, it seems a bit concerning that the chemical companies were not up-to-date on protecting the consumer from the very product they manufacture and sell. Although this is changing, the purpose of this article is to make sure you are using the correct glove for the job.
In 2011, I started an OSHA consulting firm (www.365osha.com) that works specifically with funeral homes. During this time, I have preached to my clients the importance of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and the ramifications of not doing so, primarily through OSHA citations, if inspected. The common answer always reverts to the pathway of never expecting to be inspected. However, it is never ones problem until it is. It pays to be prepare, especially when the costs of an appropriate glove for the use of embalming is roughly the same as latex, vinyl, or nitrile.
In 2017, I had 3 clients in three different states inspected. The gloves being used was an issue in each inspection. In order to meet the requirements set forth by the OSHA inspectors, I began the search for an appropriate glove. Although my conclusion was not popular amongst the chemical companies, albeit changing, my clients have been extremely pleased. At the end of the day, PPE is about protecting the worker and I must admit I was a bit frustrated knowing that the glove I had used for so many years was not protecting me or my colleagues. Yet, we move forward.
Steps to consider when choosing a glove:
Transforming these questions into practical PPE protocols is critical in the proper selection of a glove. Before purchasing any gloves, research the Glove Chemical Resistance Guide provided by the manufacturer of the glove. In those charts, dozens of chemicals listed including its resistance based on the glove you are choosing and its Permeation & Degradation Data will be outlined. I have been a proponent of the “CHLOROPRENE,” also known as the “NEOPRENE” or “POLYCHLOROPRENE) polymer glove. Three separate Industrial Hygienists from OSHA accepted this legal/safer alternative to latex, vinyl, and nitrile as being compliant. Now we need to also realize that the gloves we use to embalm with are not compliant with all chemicals. So, it is with great importance to research the product prior to purchasing.
Some popular Chloroprene gloves funeral homes are now purchasing:
BE SMART - protect yourself and your colleagues.
Schwope, A.D., Costas, P.P., Mond, C.R., Nolen, R.L., Conoley, M., Garcia, D.B.,Walters, D.B. & Prokopetz, A.T. (1988). Gloves for protection from aqueous formaldehyde: permeation resistance and human factors analysis. Applied industrial hygiene, 3:6, 167-176, DOI: 10.1080/08828032.1988.10390258
Phalen, R.N., Le,T., & Wong, W.K. (2014). Changes in chemical permeation of disposable latex, nitrile, and vinyl gloves exposed to simulated movement. Journal of occupational and environmental hygiene, 11(11), 716-21.