Safety & Health


Why Use and/or Provide Gloves?

Common reasons given for why gloves are not worn include:

  • Interferes with work -- can't grip tools as well with gloves or feel work
  • Uncomfortable -- too hot, don't fit properly, or feel awful when hands are wet
  • Not knowing when gloves should be worn
  • Not required or supplied by the employer.

While these are understandable, there are important safety and health reasons for why gloves should be supplied and worn.

  • Human – Hand injuries, including cuts, amputations, burns, and skin disorders, can be painful and, in the worst case, end a person's career. Many products and materials commonly used in construction contain chemicals that can cause serious problems if they come in contact with a workers' skin.
  • FinancialOSHA estimates that one dermatitis claim, for example, can cost more than $20,000: $9,294 in direct costs (which includes the cost of medical care and wages lost due to the injury, whether paid for by the employer, a health and welfare fund, or the workers' compensation carrier), and $11,152 in indirect costs (which includes, for example, supervisory time spent on investigation and reports, and loss of worker productivity).
  • Required – OSHA requires employers to provide gloves and workers to use them when "a workplace hazard assessment reveals that employees face potential injury to hands and arms that cannot be eliminated through engineering and work practice controls…" Potential hazards include skin absorption of harmful substances and chemical or thermal burns. In addition, if a product contains a chemical that is potentially hazardous to workers, manufacturers are required to label their product and include information in the product's Safety Data Sheet (SDS/MSDS) on glove and other personal protective equipment requirements.

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What is dermatitis?

The words 'eczema' and 'dermatitis' are often used to describe skin inflammation, which in the beginning is characterized by redness and blisters (vesicles), and later by dryness, thickening of the skin, swelling, and flaking, cracking and scaly skin. Dermatitis can be caused by irritation or a specific allergy to something at work, such as a chemical in a product.

  • Irritant dermatitis "can occur quickly after contact with a strong irritant, or over a longer period from repeated contact with weaker irritants... Repeated and prolonged contact with water (e.g. more than 20 hand washes or having wet hands for more than 2 hours per shift) can also cause irritant dermatitis."[1]
  • Allergic dermatitis develops when a person becomes "sensitized" or allergic to a chemical in a product (a skin patch test shows an allergy). When a person has allergic dermatitis, any skin exposure to the allergen will cause a reaction. This type of dermatitis is very difficult to reverse.
  • Chronic irritant dermatitis develops from repeated exposure to irritants which may be either 'wet', such as detergents, organic solvents, soaps, weak acids and alkalis, or 'dry', such as low humidity air, heat, powders, and dusts. Although doctors distinguish between irritant dermatitis and allergic dermatitis, it is common for both to exist at the same time, particularly when the dermatitis involves the hands.

Signs of dermatitis and other skin disorders may include:

Dermatitis Showing Reddening of Skin - Photo credits – Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Dermatitis Showing Crusting and Thickening of the Skin - Photo credits – Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0

  • Hands/fingers that are red and/or swelling
  • Cracked and/or itching skin
  • Crusting and thickening of the skin​
  • Blisters​
  • Flaking or scaling skin​
  • Burns

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In general, the treatment for irritant dermatitis or chemical burns would involve protecting the skin from further exposure to the product that caused the dermatitis or burn. Under ideal circumstances anyone with allergic dermatitis would avoid contact with that product or allergen causing the reaction. Since those compounds may be integral to the work, however, avoiding the substance that causes an allergic dermatitis can be difficult. For that reason, it is critical to take preventive measures to eliminate the risk of skin contact with products that could cause a burn or dermatitis and, when a worker is exposed, identify and treat early signs.

A visit to a dermatologist will help ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. At this visit, it is important to make the doctor aware of occupational exposures (the products worked with and tasks performed) that could be contributing to or causing the skin problem.

Topical corticosteroids are widely used in the treatment of established contact dermatitis, but steroids may work best in combination with after-work creams and the preventive measures described below to reduce exposure to irritants and allergens.  Anyone using topical steroids on their hands should follow their dermatologist's instructions to be sure they are using the correct medication and using it properly.  Steroids should not be used for long periods of time.  A dermatologist can prescribe additional treatments if steroids are not effective, such as psoralen plus UVA, azathioprine and cyclosporine.​

Note: Barrier creams by themselves are of questionable value in protecting against contact with irritants. Using barrier creams may give a false sense of security and in that way discourage use of gloves. Moisturizing creams give some degree of protection against developing irritant contact dermatitis, and play an important role in healing the skin when dermatitis is present. They should be applied after hand washing, after work, and before sleep. A good cream is one that is lipid rich and free from fragrance and preservatives.

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Preventive Measures
  • If possible, use products or materials that do not include the chemical that is causing the skin problem.
  • Use appropriate gloves when working with materials or products that contain hazardous chemicals and/or adhere to the skin, such as cement.
    • Take gloves off and dry hands with a clean cloth on a regular basis as sweating may aggravate existing dermatitis.
    • Wear a cotton glove under the protective glove to absorb sweat/moisture.
  • Minimize the time engaged in "wet work," which has been defined as when:
    • any part of your body is in waterproof or other occlusive personal protective clothing for longer than 2 hours a shift; gloves can be waterproof and meet this definition
    • wet objects are handled for longer than 2 hours a shift. This could include wet cement, prolonged contact with solvents, or working with equipment that uses water to suppress dust.
    • hands are washed more than 10 times a shift.
  • Wash your hands with pH neutral soaps if you work with caustics like lime or wet cement (soaps that are not pH neutral can cause more damage). The following are examples of pH neutral soaps*:
    • Bar soaps: Dove, Caress, Oil of Olay
    • Liquid soaps: Aloe Vera 80, Lever 2000, Neutrogena, Dove, Dial, Ivory, Jergens, Oil of Olay, Gillette Wash, Cetaphil, pHisoderm, Noxema, Softsoap, and Rainbath.
  • Avoid using solvents (alcohol, mineral spirits, turpentine, and limonene) to clean your hands. Instead, use mineral oil or vegetable oil with soap and water.
    • ​​Note: Alcohol-based hand cleaners (hand sanitizers) are less irritating than soap and water, but they are not effective in removing dirt and contaminants such as cement. They are designed primarily for disinfecting hands.

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*CPWR does not endorse any specific brands or products.

[1] Health and Safety Executive "Skin at work,"

[2] Fregert S., Occupational dermatitis in a 10-year material. Contact Dermatitis 1975; 1:96–107.