When ‘safety’ gloves become dangerous: the problem with DMF

When ‘safety’ gloves become dangerous: the problem with DMF

clock-circular-outline Posted 24 May 2022



What is DMF, and why should you be worried about it? Clive Grinnell, Director at iSB Group, explains how to protect your employees through careful PPE choices…


It should be a given that a product labelled a ‘safety glove’ should protect the wearer’s hands from minor injuries and exposure to hazardous materials. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.


Just as advances in materials science and manufacturing have enabled development of a new breed of synthetic work gloves providing better dexterity, flexibility and ergonomics, there has also been a rise in poor quality products that not only provide less than optimum protection, but may even pose an additional hazard to the wearer.


One such example is in the prevalence in cheaper ‘safety’ gloves of a chemical called DMF which can be harmful to humans through regular or prolonged exposure.


Fortunately, employers can easily protect their employees from this unnecessary hazard by making careful choices about the products they buy and the suppliers they buy them from.


What is DMF?


DMF (or, to use its full name, dimethyl formamide) is a solvent used in the manufacture of white polyurethane gloves. By creating a chemical reaction, it encourages the polyurethane that forms the protective outer layer of the glove to expand and seal itself around the knitted liner.


In recent years, polyurethane gloves have become a popular, cheaper alternative often worn by those working on lightweight assembly production lines, where dexterity is key.


The gloves are passed through water at the end of the manufacturing process to remove as much DMF as possible before they are packaged and exported to their final destination. However, independent tests have shown many of the gloves on the market today still contain traces of DMF above the recommended level, with some containing almost 600 times the level considered safe for long-term occupational exposure.


There is evidence that this trace DMF left behind on the gloves post-manufacture can be absorbed through the skin into the wearer’s bloodstream, where it causes a range of health problems.


What does DMF do to the human body?


As well as irritating the skin in the palm area, regular exposure to DMF can harm the liver and may cause abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and dizziness.


As a result, there are clear guidelines that govern the levels of DMF people should be exposed to, and the duration of that exposure. These guidelines state that, for those exposed to DMF throughout their working day (c. 8 hours), exposure should not exceed 10ppm. For those only exposed for around 15 minutes per day, the recommended safe limit is 20ppm.


But independent tests on a random sample of solvent-based polyurethane gloves showed they contained anywhere from 49ppm to around 10,000ppm – far in excess of what is considered safe.


What can employers do to protect their employees from DMF?


The good news is that you can easily protect your employees from the hazards posed by DMF by choosing from the many solvent-free alternatives on the market, or – where solvent-based polyurethane gloves are used – by putting in place the necessary testing and safeguards to ensure exposure is kept within safe limits.


Our tip: Look for gloves certified with the Oeko-Tex 100 standard. This guarantees that every component of the glove has been extensively and independently tested for harmful substances and therefore poses no risk to human health.


We recommend: The Maxiflex Active Glove is not only solvent-free, but is infused with Aloe Vera and Vitamin E to offer premium care for working hands.


By working with a trusted supplier and establishing the processes that allow your employees to deal directly with them when ordering the workwear and equipment they need, you can be confident that DMF shouldn’t be something you need to worry about.


You might also be interested in:

Common problems with hand protection in warehousing and how to avoid them

Why choose iSB Group for all your health and safety needs



By Clive Grinnell

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