Ensure Safety in the Cryo Lab – Wear the Right Gloves

The need for protective clothing is a feature, not just of the workplace, but one that can also be an important precaution for those engaged in certain forms of popular recreation. Just as motorcyclists must wear crash helmets, boxers and rugby players need to use gum shields, while miners and construction workers are required to wear hard hats. Anyone whose job entails working with liquid nitrogen (LN2), for instance a doctor or technician in a cryo lab, will definitely need to protect his or her hands with a pair of extremely well-insulated gloves.

Although gaseous nitrogen makes up almost 80% of the air that we breathe, in its liquid form, it should be regarded as a highly hazardous material. As such, it is a substance that must always be handled with a great deal of care. Paradoxically, it may seem, the effect of exposure to the low temperature of LN2, which must be less than -195.8oC to stop it from boiling, is very similar to that of a burn; Skin exposed in this way is cooled rapidly and experiences a sensation and accompanying damage similar to that sustained by immersion in boiling water. One further complication that can occur is that the exposed skin will often adhere to the super-cooled surfaces of the container. The result is that it frequently becomes torn when the hand is withdrawn in a typical reflex reaction, providing yet another good reason to ensure wearing protective cryo gloves when dealing with liquid nitrogen.

The sort of protective hand gear used by surgeons and general lab technicians are totally inadequate for this task. Soft materials, such as rubber and plastic, have a tendency to become brittle at the temperature required to liquefy gaseous nitrogen, and can actually shatter in response to even a fairly minor impact. In fact, even the insulated containers that are used to hold LN2 can suffer thermal stress damage if they are subjected to sudden and rapid changes in temperature.

While the most likely risk of injury to those working with this material is that they may suffer cryogenic burns, it is not the only one. If the released nitrogen vapour in the working environment reaches a sufficient level, the atmospheric oxygen level can fall, thus severely exposing workers to anoxia, followed by possible brain damage and even death. In addition to cryo gloves, therefore, atmospheric sensors and audible alarms should also be seen as an essential precaution in any area where personnel are engaged in this type of activity.

Protection of hands and arms from the harmful effects of these extreme temperatures is achieved with a multi-layered structure made from flexible insulating materials and, in addition to preventing the penetration of cold, they are generally also waterproof. Ranging from wrist- to elbow- and shoulder-length, they are also required to form a good seal, in order to prevent any entry of the only slightly warmer gaseous nitrogen.

Suppliers of a complete range of world-renowned equipment and accessories for use in cryogenic procedures, such as those employed in tissue banks, in gene therapy and in assisted reproduction, IEPSA is the company to call when you are shopping for cryo gloves, and will only be satisfied with the best.

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