What phlebotomists must know about gloves
by Dan Scungio • February 01, 2019
Twenty years ago, I worked with people who didn’t wear gloves when drawing blood. Today that’s not an option. It should be non-negotiable that gloves are always worn as personal protective equipment. For phlebotomists in the U.S., glove use during vascular access procedures is mandated by OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. Given the potential for an occupational exposure, it is obviously the best practice to don gloves. But how do you know which gloves are right for you?
The three most common types of material used in the manufacture of medical examination gloves are vinyl, latex, and nitrile. Vinyl gloves are used for many tasks, from medical exams to food handling. They are my least favorite type of glove for phlebotomists for many reasons. While they are typically not associated with allergic reactions, many brands fit loosely and provide the thinnest layer of protection. Because vinyl gloves are not very pliable, they also rip easily. Compared to latex and nitrile, powdered and powder-free vinyl gloves are the least durable when tested. In my experience, these factors make it difficult to provide your patient with the smoothest and safest blood collection experience.
Latex gloves are becoming less commonly used in the medical field because so many people – patients and healthcare professionals alike – have developed allergies to latex. Latex provides a stronger barrier than vinyl, and fits nicely on your hands. Several types of latex gloves are available on the market.
Another glove material is nitrile, a type of rubber that differs from latex, enough so that few people encounter nitrile allergies. Nitrile gloves offer the strongest protection, yet they are thin enough to provide a phlebotomist with the tactile sensitivity needed to palpate a vein. They are also the gloves recommended when handling chemicals such as acids, which may be used to prepare 24-hour urine collection containers.
On average, these glove types may last three to five years on the shelf unopened, given proper storage conditions. Not all glove manufacturers mark their packages with expiration dates, so you should note the receiving date on the box. Gloves should be stored in a cool, dry area with no direct exposure to sunlight or fluorescent lighting (which can emit some UV rays).
Regardless of the type of glove selected, to minimize defects created during use it’s important to consider other variables, such as the use of hand creams and fingernail length. Be sure to check with the glove manufacturer before using personal hand creams when wearing gloves. Some ingredients in hand lotions can break down the glove barrier or even start a reaction that can cause allergy symptoms in some individuals. Because long fingernails can also compromise glove integrity, it’s recommended that phlebotomists keep their fingernails short.
No matter what type of glove your employer provides, be sure you store them appropriately and use them consistently. After all, personal protective equipment and safety go together, hand in glove.
You can contact Dan Scungio, “Dan the Lab Safety Man” at [email protected]
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