Hand Protection in Equine Veterinary Care

Hand Protection in Equine Veterinary Care

Disposable gloves are made of different materials with different levels of protection.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Human skin is the primary barrier against microbes, toxins, and physical injury. In equine veterinary care, gloves spare humans from exposure to harmful organisms, toxins, and pharmaceuticals such as progesterone analogs and other hormone products, topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral sedatives, and antimicrobial drugs.

In 1994, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published personal protective equipment standards (29 Code of Federal Regulations) to regulate workplace protection with a focus on respiratory protection. Hand protection and workplace clothing have been the subjects of minimal regulation.

Disposable gloves are made of different materials with different levels of protection. The typical rectal palpation glove prevents skin contact with feces, but does not protect against substances such as bleach. A latex glove keeps hands clean when dealing with body fluids, but provides little skin protection against chemicals.

Glove protection has several measures. Penetration refers to punctures or tears in the glove. Permeation describes the ability of a substance to pass through an intact glove without damaging the glove material and is measured by breakthrough time (BTT). Degradation indicates alteration of the physical properties of the glove material upon exposure to chemicals.

Each glove manufacturer produces a glove selection chart to describe its products’ protection against specific compounds and solvents. Manufacturers of chemicals (including pharmaceuticals) have a “safety data sheet” (previously known as “material safety data sheets”) that lists personal protective equipment (including recommended glove type) as well as other valuable information. However, for some chemicals, the gloves for hand protection are simply listed as “impervious,” in which case basic knowledge about glove types is critical.

Skin exposure occurs before there is a perception of leakage through a glove. Measures of permeation and degradation vary considerably between glove manufacturers. More importantly, the reported protection often does not reflect the true protection in the field. Wide variations in BTT occur due to variations between batches, effects of ambient temperature and humidity, and hand motion. Hand motion alone has been reported to significantly alter BTT.

Disposable glove choices are generally limited to latex, nitrile, or vinyl. Each glove has its own attributes. Latex has a smooth fit, offers good dexterity, and protects from bodily fluids and pathogens. However the material can cause allergic reactions, degrades readily from exposure to chemicals and disinfectants, and punctures can be inapparent.

Nitrile is a synthetic polymer so there is less allergic stimulation and it is puncture resistant. Tears are easily seen. The fit is good, which reduces hand fatigue and snags. Nitrile has good resistance to both chemicals and to microbes.

Vinyl gloves are commonly used in the food industry and offer the least protection against many chemicals. The glove is not affected by movement, but can have a poor fit.

Rubber or neoprene gloves are recommended when using many disinfectants as these chemicals can be caustic and irritating to skin.

No one glove material is resistant to all different chemicals. Disposable gloves are meant to be discarded and not reused. Read the package insert of any chemical, pharmaceutical, pesticide, or disinfectant for information on personal protective equipment, including specific glove recommendations.


CONTACT—Dr. Rachel Westerlund—410/771-4800—rachelwesterlund@gmail.com—Maryland Equine Center, Inc., Upperco, Maryland


This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd’s, London.

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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