Intensifying focus on worker safety across medical, chemical, automotive, and oil & gas sectors is a major reason for the burgeoning nitrile gloves industry, with robust need for critical PPE solutions. Hands are the second-most susceptible to injuries in the workplace, closely following back injuries. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 1 million workers experience severe hand injuries each year, from lacerations, cuts, and punctures, which are the three most common types of hand-related injuries that can impact a worker’s ability to function.
However, hand injuries are also easily preventable, with studies showing that nearly 70% of them are occurring due to the absence of safety gear, such as gloves. Growing recognition of the importance of safety gear in the workplace, particularly for hand injuries, is a major driving force behind the rise of safety gloves in recent years. The nitrile gloves market size is expected to exceed $11.2 billion by 2027.
What are nitrile gloves?
Nitrile gloves, which rose to prominence in the 90s, were hailed as a suitable alternative to widely used latex products. Highly chemical resistant and durable, these gloves are ideal for any workers handling corrosive and potentially hazardous materials. They are also well suited for use in the medical domain, given their strong puncture resistance and hypoallergenic properties, augmenting nitrile gloves industry trends.
This is especially evident in the current fraught situation created by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, which is driving the healthcare sector to turn its focus towards essential products in order to curb the risk of further transmission. This, in turn, led to a massive surge in nitrile gloves demand, which subsequently created supply challenges during the early months of the pandemic.
However, in recent months, manufacturers have taken heed of this and are seeking persistent measures to accommodate the ever-growing demand for nitrile safety gloves in the medical sector. For instance, in January 2021, Japanese manufacturing company Showa Group announced plans to triple its nitrile gloves production capacity by the year 2022, at its facility in Fayette, Alabama. This expansion was aimed at driving up production capacity to over 1.2 billion units annually.
Nitrile gloves are available in various types, including powdered and powder-free variants. Of these, powder-free nitrile gloves are gaining rapid momentum in recent times, given the relatively higher risk of allergy associated with their powdered counterparts. According to reports, the powder-free nitrile gloves industry is likely to register a higher valuation by 2027.
In January 2020, the U.S. Medical Glove Company also expanded its manufacturing capacity for powder-free nitrile gloves for use across industrial, medical, food & beverage, and federal applications. With the addition of 24 production lines and a $15 million “U.S. Medical Glove Houston Hub”, the company tripled its medical gloves manufacturing capabilities by 2021 spring.
While designed primarily to be useful protection products during medical examinations, the utility scope of the nitrile gloves market has gradually broadened into many industries, including manufacturing, automotive and chemical, among others. Recent years have also marked the replacement of conventional latex-based gloves in food service, food processing, sanitation, and janitorial applications by nitrile gloves, given their extensive structural advantages.
Top 5 benefits associated with nitrile safety gloves
Nitrile gloves market has seen considerable traction in recent years, which is attributed to the ever-increasing interest in the product from many key industrial applications.
- Extremely Puncture Resistant: As an inherently puncture-resistant material, nitrile possesses over 3 to 5 times the strength of latex gloves. This puncture resistance, alongside the ability of the product to serve as a general barrier, is one of the major reasons for its extensive use in high-pressure applications, such as in the medical sector.
- Hypo-allergenic: The use of nitrile gloves offers protection against the allergic reaction commonly associated with latex, not just to the wearer, but also to any clients or patients that may have a latex allergy. These hypoallergenic properties, in combination with the material’s high durability and strength, allow it to withstand many safety hazards common in the industrial workspace.
- High chemical resistance: Nitrile gloves are manufactured using synthetic rubber engineered to have high resistance to many potentially hazardous oils, chemicals, or acids. This contributes greatly to the expensive usage of nitrile safety gloves in applications where contact with such materials is a high possibility, particularly automotive.
- Form-fitting: Nitrile gloves deliver a high level of comfort as well as dexterity to the wearers, as it possesses form-fitting properties. This superior fit is due to the ability of nitrile to conform to the specific contours of the user’s hands, as it warms up from their body heat.
- Low friction resistance: To make the products easy to wear and remove, nitrile gloves are generally manufactured using coatings that help lower their friction resistance. These coatings can range from polymers, which impact a slick finish, to powders, which can help wick away moisture, to chlorination, which eliminates tackiness and makes the gloves softer.
3 keys differences between nitrile and latex gloves
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the use of safety gear like gloves. Varying design and material characteristics make different products well suited for different applications. The most used materials in gloves are latex and nitrile.
While both serve the primary purpose of hand-protection, they have certain intrinsic differences in properties. Enlisted below and 3 major differences between nitrile gloves and latex gloves.
Risk of allergy: Latex has been one of the most widely used materials for medical gloves for decades. Latex gloves offer high protection, comfort, and flexibility, all of which are properties that make them suitable to most medical environments. However, one of the main drawbacks of latex is the risk of latex allergy, which affects many people. Nitrile gloves, on the other hand, are made from synthetic rubber, and thus possess hypoallergenic properties, and are thus replacing latex as the preferred hand safety solution in recent years.
Strength: Nitrile gloves are 3x more puncture-resistant than latex, making them much stronger than their conventional counterpart. While nitrile lacks some of the flexibility associated with latex gloves, this high puncture resistance makes nitrile gloves a more preferred solution in applications where the workers meet sharp objects, such as needles.
Price stability: Latex is made from natural rubber and is thus a naturally sourced product. While this has certain benefits, it also comes with drawbacks, mainly the price volatility associated with natural products. Nitrile gloves, on the other hand, are made from synthetic rubber, which makes them more price stable than latex.
What do nitrile gloves not protect against?
The application potential of the nitrile gloves market spans myriad areas. Disposable nitrile gloves can offer strong protection to workers’ hands from various potential hazards, including corrosive liquids, abrasive materials, and cuts.
However, despite their durability, no product is indefinitely impermeable. While nitrile safety gloves are highly chemical resistant and thus offer protection against many hazardous materials, there are some substances which they cannot protect against.
For instance, nitrile gloves are unable to offer protection against severely hazardous substances such as ketones, acetates, highly corrosive chemicals, aromatic solvents, and concentrated acids. Nitrile safety gloves, when put into contact with these materials, lose some of their resistance properties, which could lead to skin damage to the wearer’s hand if used in these applications. For this reason, many workplaces prefer to employ alternative products such as vinyl gloves when dealing with these substances.
One of the most used hand safety solutions in myriad applications, nitrile gloves is gaining massive ground across the industrial landscape in the modern era. Intrinsic advantages, from high wear resistance to durability, make these products well balanced for many aspects of work, a trend that is gaining more recognition from major industries in recent years. It will certainly position nitrile gloves industry as one of the integral cogs in the worker safety ecosystem over the years ahead.