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Employers are obligated to carry out risk assessments to collect all information on risks to health at a workplace. Protective gloves are needed to prevent injuries to the hands and to comply with the hazardprevention hierarchy. If all action in terms of “elimination, substitution, engineering controls" or “administrative controls" is incapable of reducing the risk to a sufficient degree, the worker must wear protective gloves.
There are many different types of protective gloves available on the European market as personal protective equipment (PPE) conforming to the PPE Regulation. This article provides information on these different types of gloves and their fields of application. Information on the different categories (I, II, III) under the PPE Regulation and the consequences for the gloves on the market are presented.
This information relates to the following typical occupations such as:
- Motor vehicle repair
There are two main EU legislative acts concerning protective gloves as items of personal protective equipment (PPE). The first defines the responsibilities of the employer for the safe use of personal protective equipment: Directive 89/656/EEC.The second legislative act comprises the rules for placing PPE on the European market: Regulation 2016/425/EU. The Regulation defines legal obligations for manufacturers to ensure that PPE on the EU internal market comply with the essential health and safety requirements and provide the highest level of protection against risks. PPE are divided into three main categories. PPE of category 1 provide protection against minimal risks, category III PPE protect against risks that may cause very serious consequences such as death or irreversible damage to health and category II contains the other PPE (annex I of the PPE Regulation 2016/425/EU). To each of these categories apply different conformity assessment procedures. Conformity assessment is the process carried out by the manufacturer of demonstrating whether the essential health and safety requirements have been fulfilled. To demonstrate the conformity, the manufacturer has to meet the technical requirements laid down in harmonised standards. The CE marking affixed to PPE provides evidence of compliance of the product with the legal requirements.
Definitions according to EN ISO 21420 Protective gloves – General requirements and test methods:
- Dexterity: manipulative ability to perform a task with the hands
- Glove: personal protective equipment (PPE) which protects the hand or part of the hand against hazards; It can additionally cover part of the forearm and arm.
- Glove palm: part of the glove which covers the palm of the hand i.e. from the wrist to the base of the fingers
- Glove back: part of the glove which covers the back of the hand, i.e. from the wrist to the base of the fingers
- Hand: end part of the body beyond the wrist, including palm, fingers and the thumb
- Hazard: potential source of injury or damage to the health of people
- Level of performance: number or letter that designates a particular category or range of performance by which the results of testing can be graded. A high level number or letter corresponds to a high level of performance. Levels of performance are based upon the results of laboratory tests which do not necessarily reflect actual conditions in the workplace.
- Multilayer gloves: gloves containing more than one layer with some level of permanent connection between the layers.
Skin diseases associated with a particular field of work are very common, and the hands are typically affected. Theseskin problems can be caused by the contact with substances in products such as hairdressing chemicals or chemicals used in dental work. It is important to find the right glove for these employees so that they can stay in their occupations. The cost of changing occupations is high.
Many substances can penetrate the skin and are capable of causing diseases elsewhere in the body. While harmful substances and wet work are a major cause of skin disease, constantly working in uncomfortably hot or cold surroundings or excessively dry or wet conditions can also cause serious skin disorders. In addition, working in wet environments may cause skin problems like dermatitis, due to the occlusion of the skin of the hands . It is also important to limit the time for wearing protective gloves, after which the user can take a break before putting on a fresh pair of gloves to resume work. The glove used by an individual has to be selected with care because the material can also cause skin problems in some cases. For example, natural rubber latex (NRL) proteins have the potential to cause asthma and dermatitis. More serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, are also possible. The proteins naturally present in NRL cause allergies either through direct contact with the skin or by inhalation of powder from powdered latex gloves.
When choosing protective gloves, it is important to ensure that the glove selected is appropriate for the work to be done and the materials to be handled.
EN ISO 21420  is the reference standard for the other specific standards for protective gloves. This standard defines the general requirements for protective gloves, e.g. design, sizes, innocuousness, cleaning, comfort, dexterity, marking and instructions for use of the gloves.
Innocuousness of the material
Protective gloves should not be harmful for the user, if put to normal use. The used materials should not affect the health of the user. Information on potential allergic substances should be provided by the manufacturer. In view of this requirement gloves must be tested for the presence of harmful substances.
The pH of the glove materials should be greater than 3.5 and less than 9.5. Chromium-VI content shall be determined according to the test method specified in ISO 17075 . The Chromium VI content in leather can be no more than 3mg/kg.
Other tests are aimed at substances such as nickel and the presence of dimethylformamide. For some of the discussed chemicals, there may belimit values in the European standards or in various European directives and regulations.
All tests in the standards for protective gloves shall be performed on unused gloves if nothing else is specified. If cleaning is specified in the instructions for use, tests shall be done before and after cleaning and the performance level of each specific test shall not be affected negatively. It is worth noting that cleaning is a very complex issue, especially for chemical protective gloves. Usage and cleaning may have a major effect on the performance of the reused gloves.
Gloves intended for use in workplaces where there is a risk of fire or explosion need to be tested for electrostatic properties in accordance with EN 16350. These gloves are marked with the pictogram of electrostatic properties.
There are 10 glove sizes (sizes 4 to 13) defined in the standard, which are presented in Table 1.
Table 1 – Glove sizes
|Glove size||Hand circumference in mm||Hand length in mm distance between the wrist and the tip of the middle finger|
Source: EN 21420 
Water vapour transmission and absorption
If possible, the protective gloves shall allow water vapour transmission. If required,
the leather gloves shall have a water vapour transmission of at least 5 mg/(cm² × h), based on the test method of ISO 14268. For textile gloves, the water vapour resistance has to less than or equal to 30 m2·Pa/W, based on the test method of ISO 11092.
The dexterity of a glove depends on characteristics such as the thickness of the glove material and its elasticity. EN ISO 21420 requires a practical test to determine the dexterity. The tester wearing the glove has to pick up special test pins with defined diameters (5 to 11 mm). The level of performance is defined by the pin with the smallest diameter that can be lifted. Performance levels range from 1 to 5.
European standards for personal protective equipment (PPE) demonstrate its conformity to the essential health and safety requirements of the EU Personal Protective Equipment Regulation. Only equipment meeting these requirements is eligible to carry a CE mark and be sold for use in the EU. Taking into account the wide range of activities carried out at different workplaces as well as the related hazards, gloves designed for protection should fulfil the specific requirements defined in Regulation 2016/425/EU and harmonised European standards.
Each protective glove shall be marked with the following information:
- Name of manufacturer or his authorised representative;
- Name of the glove (commercial name or code);
- Date of manufacturing (month and year)
- Relevant pictograms and corresponding performance levels
- Information pictogram as information in the instructions for use.
Marking shall be visible, legible and indelible for the foreseeable useful life of the glove. No other confusing marking should be affixed. If it is not possible to mark the glove itself, the marking needs to be affixed to the packaging.
Information supplied by the manufacturer
The following minimum information should be supplied with every protective glove. In addition, more information should be available on request:
- Name and full address of manufacturer or his authorised representative;
- Glove designation;
- Information on the available size range;
- Reference to the relevant specific European standard(s);
- Pictogram(s) indicating categories of hazard followed by the performance levels;
- A basic explanation to assist comprehension of the relevant performance levels, and indication of the standard(s) to which they refer;
- Instructions for use;
- Indication of the standard(s) to which they refer.
Protective gloves against mechanical risks
EN 388  specifies the requirements, test methods, marking and user information for protective gloves against mechanical risks. The gloves are tested on 6 protective properties. Performance levels are defined for each of these properties.
|Performance levels of the tested protective properties (number + letters)||Examples 4 3 4 2 B P 3 X 0 3 E|
|remark: If the property has not been tested: an "X" is mentioned except in the case of impact protection|
|Abrasion||1 to 4|
|Cut||1 to 5|
|Tear||1 to 4|
|Puncture||1 to 4|
|Cut*||A to F|
|Impact protection||test passed = P not tested/not passed: no letter is mentioned|
* test based on EN ISO 13997
Protective gloves against chemicals
The requirements of protective gloves against chemicals are described in the following standards:
- EN ISO 374-1 Protective gloves against dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 1: Terminology and performance requirements for chemical risks
- EN ISO 374-2 Protective gloves against dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 2: Determination of resistance to penetration
- EN ISO 374-4 Protective gloves against dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 4: Determination of resistance to degradation by chemicals
- EN 16523 Determination of material resistance to permeation by chemicals - Part 2: Permeation by potentially hazardous gaseous chemicals under conditions of continuous contact
The protective properties of gloves are determined by 3 test methods a penetration test, a permeation test and a degradation test.
- Penetration is the movement of a chemical through holes or other defects in the protective glove material (non-molecular level).
- Degradation is the change in one or more physical characteristics of a glove caused by contact with a chemical. Indications for degradation are flaking material, disintegration, crumbling, colour change, softening, etc.
- Permeation refers to the break through the glove material at a molecular level (the time taken for the hazardous chemical to come in contact with the skin). The permeation test determines the performance level (1 to 6) (table 2).
|Measured breakthrough time in min||Permeation performance level|
Source: 374-1 
For the permeation test multiple chemicals can be used. The standard indicates each of these test chemicals by a letter (table 3).
Table 3 – List of test chemicals
|K||Sodium hydroxide 40%|
|L||Sulphuric acid 96%|
|M||Nitric acid 65%|
|N||Acetic acid 99%|
|O||Ammonium Hydroxide 25%|
|P||Hydrogen peroxide 30%|
|S||Hydrogen fluoride 40%|
The protective gloves are separated into 3 classification types based on permeation performance: type A, type B or type C. Type A gloves are tested against at least 6 chemicals from the list and have a break through time of minimum 30 minutes. Gloves of class B have the same minimum brea ktrough time but are tested against 3 chemicals. Type C gloves are tested against 1 chemical with a break through time of minimum 10 minutes. The classification of the glove has to be mentioned on the label. On Class A and B gloves, the letters of the chemicals for which the glove has been tested, are added. The pictogram 'protection against chemicals' appears on the 3 classes (table 4).
Table 4 – Classes of protective gloves against chemicals and marking
|Type A||Min 30 minutes break through time against at least 6 chemicals||
EN ISO 374-1/Type A
|Type B||Min 30 minutes break through time against at least 3 chemicals||
EN ISO 374-1/Type B
|Type C||Min 10 minutes break through time against at least 1 chemical||
EN ISO 374-1/Type C
lt should be emphasized that the test does not represent the conditions at the workplace, and the test results should only be used to compare different materials and types of gloves.
Protective gloves against microorganisms
EN ISO 374-5 specifies performance requirements for gloves that protect the user against micro-organisms. Based on this standard, gloves are divided into two classifications and are marked with the pictogram protection against microorganisms.
Within the hierarchy of controls, elimination and engineering controls should have priority over the use of personal protective equipment, including the use of gloves. However, where it is not possible to achieve adequate control by other means alone, personal protective equipment including gloves should be used in combination with and in addition to other controls. Protective gloves tend to be less effective than other control measures but if avoiding contact is impracticable or is insufficient to protect employees, then gloves may be needed. When selecting protective gloves, the choice should be based on the work, the wearer and the environment he or she works in. The following five factors need to be considered:
1. Identify the substance handled
It is important that the substance being handled is known since the level of protection and the type of glove needed will depend on this.
2. Identify all other hazards for hands
Identify any other hazards present. For example, is there a risk of abrasion, cuts, puncture or high temperatures? There are chemical protective gloves that also provide protection against mechanical hazards (those marked EN 388) and thermal hazards (those marked EN 407).
3. Consider the type and duration of contact
- Will gloves be worn for a short time, intermittently or for long periods? Comfort is more important for longer wear. Generally, thicker, robust gloves offer greater protection than thinner gloves but thinner gloves offer better dexterity.
- Will contact be from occasional splashes or by total immersion? Short gloves are fine as protection against splashes. If the hands are immersed (and you can justify that this is unavoidable), choose a length greater than the depth of immersion.
4. Consider the user – size and comfort
- Gloves should fit the wearer. Tight gloves can make hands feel tired and lose their grip. Gloves that are too big can cause creasing; these can impair work and be uncomfortable. It can help to use sizing charts.
- Comfortable gloves are more likely to be worn. Involve employees in the selection process and give them a reasonable choice to pick from.
- Hands can sweat inside gloves, making them uncomfortable to wear. Getting staff to take glove breaks, removing gloves for a minute or so before hands get too hot and sweaty, can help to air the hands. You could also consider supplying separate cotton gloves to wear under protective gloves. These can improve comfort by absorbing sweat. They can be laundered and reused.
5. Consider the task
- Gloves should not hamper the task. If wet/oily objects are handled, choose gloves with a roughened/textured surface for a good grip. Select gloves that balance protection with dexterity. Ensure the gloves selected meet all standards required for the task, e.g. sterile gloves, food-grade gloves. Consider whether colour is important, e.g. to show up contamination.
Once the appropriate gloves for the task have been selected, employees must be trained and informed on how to use the gloves properly so as to protect themselves. The information provided should include when they should be replaced and, if they are reusable, how to rinse them before removal (if practicable) and how they should be stored.
Practical example: Chemical protective gloves for hairdressers
The first step for the correct selection of chemical protective gloves is a risk assessment. For the selection of the appropriate gloves, several factors must be considered. These include:
- resistance to permeation of the used products or hazardous substances;
- workplace conditions (e.g. various chemicals, splashes or full contact, temperature, mechanical stressing);
- state of health of the wearer (e.g. any allergies).
The user can obtain information on permeation performance in the instructions for use. Many manufacturers provide databases or lists on permeation resistance or breakthrough time. However, in none of these cases does the user obtain information for a specific workplace. Taking the specific example of gloves for hairdressers used when dyeing hair, the questions presented in Table 6 have to be considered.
|Most important risk?||Cosmetic chemicals (allergies), look for permeation data|
|Duration of task?||Maximum 1 h|
|Reusable or single use?||Single use (coloured hair dye), no contamination when removing the glove|
|Tactile sensitivity?||High (thin glove)|
Source: overview by the author
The answers to these questions will help the hairdresser to choose the appropriate glove material. The information gathered during the risk assessment process at any workplace can be supplied to the glove or chemical manufacturer so that he can recommend suitable gloves.
Reusability of chemical protective gloves
There are currently chemical protective gloves of different protection levels on the market. The type of protection depends on the work performed.
If high sensitivity and dexterity are needed, the user may use a thin disposable glove. It is important for users to know the permeation behaviour of the chemical used, because thin gloves do not have high breakthrough times against a wide range of chemicals. Thin gloves have to be changed more often than thicker gloves of the same material. Thin gloves are intended for single use only (mentioned on the packaging) and must never be reused.
“Reusable" chemical protective gloves are often thicker gloves with a higher chemical and mechanical resistance but might not be suitable for tasks that require a high sensitivity. However, with this kind of glove it is difficult to decide whether it can be reused. Re-use depends on the type of chemicals. If a highly volatile chemical is used, the gloves may be dried at ambient temperature. After contact with a non-volatile chemical, decontamination may be difficult. For example, some acids have a high degrading potential: when obvious degradation occurs, these gloves should never be reused.
How to remove a chemical protective glove
- If a chemical protective glove is to be reused, it has to be cleaned, removed and dried as follows : Clean gloves before taking them off:
- When working with solvents, wipe with dry cloth.
- When working with acids or alkali-containing products, rinse protective gloves under the tap and dry with a clean cloth.
- Take gloves off without touching the outer surface with the bare hands.
- When taking off contaminated gloves, avoid touching the exterior surface of the gloves with bare hands.
- Clean gloves only in accordance with the manufacturer’s care instructions, store and use again if possible.
- Before reuse, let gloves dry.
- Reuse only defect-free protective gloves:
- Gloves must not exhibit any peeling, flaking, fissures or holes.
- Gloves must not be discoloured or brittle.
- Contaminated gloves must be disposed of properly.
- Observe the manufacturer’s information as well as the local disposal regulations.
 Regulation (EU) 2016/425 on personal protective equipment of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016 on personal protective equipment and repealing Council Directive 89/686/EEC (with effect from 21 April 2018). Available at: 
 Directive 89/656/EEC - use of personal protective equipment of 30 November 1989 on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace. Available at: 
 EN ISO 21420 Protective gloves - General requirements and test methods, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
 HSE- Health and Safety Executive (no date). What are work-related skin diseases? Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/skin/employ/whatare.htm
 EN ISO 17075 Leather - Chemical tests - Determination of chromium(VI) content, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
 EN 16350 Protective gloves - Electrostatic properties
 EN388 Protective gloves against mechanical risks, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
 EN 374-1: Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 1: Terminology and performance requirements, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
 DGUV - Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung. DGUV Information 212-007 Chemikalienschutzhandschuhe. Available at: https://publikationen.dguv.de/regelwerk/publikationen-nach-fachbereich/persoenliche-schutzausru-stungen/schutzkleidung/882/chemikalienschutzhandschuhe
- EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Risk assessment essentials. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/risk-assessment-essentials/view
- EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Practical tools and guidance on dangerous substances. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/themes/dangerous-substances/practical-tools-dangerous-substances
- EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Risk assessment, the key to healthy workplaces, Factsheet. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/factsheet-81-risk-assessment-key-healthy-workplaces/view
- EU Commission, Personal protective equipment, https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/mechanical-engineering/personal-protective-equipment_en