There are certain standards medical gloves must meet.
But what good are those standards past the packaging of this critical PPE? And can we guarantee these standards are even met in the first place?
Katrina Cornish, research director at the Ohio State University, and Alison Bagwell, CEO of Shield Manufacturing LLC, both discussed key flaws in the standardization of medical gloves.
In her presentation, "Durability Variation amongst Medical Gloves Made from Different Elastomers," Cornish noted that while medical gloves must meet certain standards for mechanical performances and perforations at the time of packaging, there are no standards currently in place for durability once those gloves are removed from their packaging.
"People expect a glove to be what they expect a glove to be," she said. "… They don't expect (the gloves) to break, they expect to have protection."
And unreliable gloves in the medical field, Cornish said, mean higher rates of health care-associated infections.
"The bottom line is flimsy gloves cost lives," she said.
Bagwell reinforced this concern in her presentation, "Medical Protective Devices and New Manufacturing Paradigms," stating that gloves are not tested with ergonomics in mind.
"]Surgeons are] screwing, they're tightening, they're hammering, they're sawing, which is making the gloves stretched, twisted [and] pinched."
And gloves are just not tested against these conditions, she said.
Durability aside, if the glove doesn't break, is it still even protecting you?
Bagwell thinks probably not, noting that industry standards for medical gloves are long overdue for an update.
As requirements for gloves change and expand, the standards regulating these gloves have not, especially with the development of new drugs, chemicals and even medical procedures, she said.
Some of these new procedures or substances have not been tested with the gloves we use today, Bagwell said, so there is no assurance that the wearer is protected from the risks associated with exposure to these substances.
Then there's the risk of endotoxins, Bagwell added, noting these can be present on surgical gloves, among other medical devices.
Endotoxins, also referred to as LPS (lipopolysaccharides), can cause inflammation and fevers in patients, and in some cases anaphylactic shock or death, according to the National Institute of Health.
While there is work being done in some countries to develop standards for endotoxins on gloves, there currently are none, Bagwell said.
But even if we have the standards in place, that doesn't necessarily mean they're always going to be met, according to Cornish.
Cornish said rates of inspection are so low that some manufacturers are willing to risk paying fines for putting substandard gloves to market.
"They prefer to risk paying the fine because the chances of getting caught with a substandard glove were so low that it's a better business proposition for them to make an inferior glove," she said of some manufacturers she heard from based in Southeast Asia. "They can make it cheaper."
Cornish and Bagwell both are calling for higher and more comprehensive standards for the gloves industry.
And more accountability.
"Our health care workers were put in really bad spot three years ago (due to COVID), and they still are today," Bagwell said. "And that's not going to change because it never has."