Why wear protective gloves ?
The protective gloves are part of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as are helmets, ear protection, glasses, respiratory equipment, safety shoes and belts.
A great variety of protective gloves
The range on the market is large and extremely varied: there is an appropriate protective glove for each situation.
Contrary to widespread belief, protective gloves can be worn during any occupational activity.
The protective gloves : protective surface
According to the requirements of use you should choose a protective glove which protects the exposed area.
The protective gloves with a partial coating (see the two photos on the left) are particularly comfortable to wear, as they are flexible and breathable.
The protective gloves : dexterity
The dexterity depends on the thickness of the protective glove and the flexibility of the material.
The comfortable glove
The trend is for protective gloves which are light, flexible, thin, permeable to sweat, and which ensure good sensitivity and the greatest possible comfort. In this way it is possible to wear gloves continuously for extended periods.
The protecting glove
The correct protective glove protects effectively against dangers and allows the wearer to carry out his/her work in comfort.
In order to choose the right protective glove, it is necessary to consider the range of physical and chemical risks, such as cuts, perforation, abrasion, crushing, burning and exposure to fire, heat, cold and chemical substances.
Level of protection according to the category of risk
The PPE Directive 89/686 defines 3 categories of risk for the personal protective equipment (PPE).
1st category. Minimal risk: PPE of simple design for hygiene, comfort or to protect against risks, the effects of which are easily reversible or have no consequence to the health of the user. This PPE can be certified by the manufacturer himself. Generally we are talking of light protective gloves, at a low price, easy to use and which considerably increase working comfort.
These protective gloves protect e.g. against humidity, dirt, light abrasion, superficial grazing, burns.
2nd category. Medium risk: PPE of elaborate design to protect against risks which can result permanent adverse health effects. These protective gloves are tested according to the European standards by an accredited laboratory. The range of protective gloves in this category is extremely wide. These protective gloves often consist of multi-layer structure, of different materials, sometimes very sophisticated, to meet all work-related requirements.
These protective gloves protect against cuts, abrasion, burns, chemicals, infectious agents, radioactive contamination.
3rd category. Risk of death or serious injury: PPE of very complex design to protect against irreversible damages to health.
This PPE must not only have passed the test of the 2nd category, but has also to be subjected to a product quality assurance system.
These protective gloves are very specific, e.g. for firemen, founders, butchers, electricians or employees of the chemical industry. They protect against burns due to flames or splashes of molten metal, deep cuts, electrical high tension, burns and poisoning by chemicals.
European Standard (EN) and their pictograms
Conformity with European directives is indicated by the CE logo and pictograms in the form of a shield. The European directives with regard to individual protection equipment (EPI) impose a precise system of tests and classification of protective gloves: the European standards indicated by the letters EN, for “European Norm”. The first of these standards is EN 420, which defines the general criteria to which protective gloves must conform.
The “open book” pictogram refers to information provided by the manufacturer, such as the name of the gloves, their size, their usage etc.
For certain risks, for example those connected with chemicals and mechanical risks, more specific standards are required to satisfy EN 420 : see following pages.
On gloves with the CE certification which offer high protection the following information is shown: the size, the manufacturer’s name, the name of the gloves, the standards of the tests which they have passed and their logos, the CE mark with the number of the organisation which has certified the glove.
Warning: the CE logo on its own is not a mark of quality, but indicates that the protective glove conforms to minimum requirements and that it can circulate freely in the European market.
The pictograms can mislead:
- The pictograms have the shape of a shield, although the protective glove does not protect !
- The existence of the pictograms only indicates that the protective glove has been tested, without prejudice to its quality, in accordance with a procedure specified a European standard.
- the symbol with the hammer means that the protective glove has been tested to evaluate its resistance against mechanical risks (EN 388).
- the symbol with the flame means that the protective glove has been tested to evaluate its resistance against heat and/or fire (EN 407),
- the symbol with the chemical flask means that the protective glove has been tested to evaluate its chemical resistance (EN 374).
Evolution of the norms and pictograms
The continuing development of materials and manufacturing techniques leads to an evolution of the standards and the pictograms.
The standard EN 388 for protection against mechanical risks, which dated from 2003, was extended in 2016 to high-performance protection against cuts and protection against crushing: see page 11. The pictogram of the EN 374:2003 “impermeable protective gloves giving limited protection against chemical substances” was abandoned in the 2016 version. Only the pictogram representing a flask with fumes has been retained.
The standard EN 374 for protection against chemical risks has been supplemented by tests with three further chemicals. From now on the gloves are divided into three types, A, B and C : see page 19. The pictogram relating to micro-organisms of EN 374: 2003 was supplemented in 2016 with a version containing the word “virus” which indicates that a fuller test of protection against viruses had been carried out and was successful, see page 18.
Mechanical resistance: standard EN 388
This pictogram refers to the European standard 388 which specifies the resistance of protective gloves to six types of mechanical dangers:
b) Cuts with a blade
Specific resistance to shock is indicated by the letter P only when a reference test has been carried out. If the test does not apply to the protective glove which has been tested, or has not been carried out, the letter X appears in place of the number.
Under the pictogram appear numbers or letters which indicate the resistance to each of these four types of requirements. The resistance to the dangers a) to d) is defined on a scale from 0 to 4 or 5.
e) Cuts with a blade with pressure (new in 2016). Very high resistance to cuts is defined by a specific test (cutting test with progressively harder pressure) which goes from A to F (maximum)
f) Impact (new in 2016)
Impact cuts : standard EN 1082
The standard EN 1082 defines the protection against cuts by impact and completes the standard EN 388 which only specifies the resistance against cuts by sharp-edged objects and material.
The pictogram in question can generally be seen on chain-mesh protective gloves for butchers and workers in meat processing (boning and carving).
Protection against heat and / or fire : standards EN 407 and EN 659
Standard EN 407 defines the specific criteria of protective gloves against heat and/or fire.
Standard EN 659 specially refers to protective equipment for the fire-brigade.
Protection against cold : standard EN 511
Standard EN 511 defines the specific criteria of protective gloves to protect against convective cold and contact cold to -50°C as well as permeability by water.
Protection against radioactivity : standard EN 421
Standard EN 421 defines the specific criteria of protective gloves to protect against radioactive contamination and ionising radiation.
This type of protective glove is used in radiology, oncology, research and in the nuclear industry.
Compatibility with food: „Glass and Fork“ pictogram
Regulation 1935/2004 and the European Directives 82/711 and 85/572 lay down certain rules relating to materials which come into contact with food.
They aim to prevent
a) dangerous substances contained in the composition of the protective gloves migrating into the food.
b) possible pathogenic micro-organisms on the surface of the skin contaminating the food.
Note : A protective glove can be suitable for contact with some foods and not with others !
In general, there are very few protective gloves which are compatible with all types of food. The use of the pictogram “glass and fork”, without more detailed information, does not constitute a sufficient guarantee that the protective glove is suitable for a particular type of food.
Some manufacturers provide tables showing the compatibility of protective gloves with different types of foods.
It should be noted that the declaration of food conformity issued by protective glove manufacturers is based on tests which are not subject to any checking by an independent organisation.
Noxious substances are very varied and widespread
Products hazardous to health and skin are not only limited to heavy chemistry. They can be found in our environment, at home, at work and during recreational activities. They may include cleaning detergents for surfaces and objects, lubricants, degreasing agents, solvents, removers, disinfectants, varnish, glues, antirust agents, pesticides etc.
The safety data sheets obtained by the manufacturer or its representative, provide detailed information on the toxic risks detrimental to health.
Resistance to chemical products and micro-organisms : standard EN 374
The standard EN 374 defines the protection against dangerous chemical products and penetration by micro-organisms.
The protective gloves which comply with the EN 374 standard have passed a test of resistance to air and water. They are non-porous and they do not have any non-watertight seams or other imperfections. In addition these gloves have undergone quality controls and are considered resistant to the passage of micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi. Protection against viruses is the object of a specific medical standard and of a pictogram containing the word “virus” when the glove has successfully passed the test.
The first pictogram indicates that the protective glove fulfils the undermentioned criteria and that it also protects against permeation by chemical substances, see following pages.In principle, these two pictograms should not appear together on the same glove, as they indicate different levels of protection.
Chemical resistance: standard EN 374
Resistance to dangerous chemical products is complex, because it takes into account the great diversity of chemical products and their various effects. In addition it relates to notions of penetration, permeation and resistance to degradation by chemical materials, see page 20 and onwards.
The pictogram “resistance to chemical products” is followed by type A, B or C and by a code from zero to six letters.
Type A indicates that the glove protects against at least six substances among the eighteen tested, type B against at least three substances and type C against at least one substance, which is not specified. For types A and B, the time for permeation by the tested substances, see page 20, must be at least 30 minutes. For type C, it must be at least 10 minutes.
The standard refers to eighteen standard substances identified by the letters A to T.
- A methanol
- B acetone
- C acetonitrile
- D dichloromethane
- E disulphur of carbon
- F toluene
- G diethylamine
- H tetrahydrofuran
- I ethyl acetate
- J n-heptane
- K caustic soda 40%
- L sulphuric acid 96%
- M nitric acid 65%
- N acetic acid 99%
- O ammonia 25%
- P hydrogen peroxide 30%
- S fluorhydric acid 40%
- T formaldehyde 37%
Resistance of the protective gloves to penetration and permeation by noxious substances
The resistance of protective gloves against chemicals is based on two precepts:
a) penetration means the movement through the protective glove of a chemical substance through the imperfections of the material or through porosities and leaking seams.
b) permeation means the diffusion at a molecular level of a chemical substance through the material of a protective glove.
The permeation follows according to two criteria: the breakthrough time of the chemical substance and the permeation flux. The permeation flux refers to the quantity of the substance which passes through a protective glove, per surface and time unit. The permeation flux is sometimes more significant than the breakthrough time. In other words, one protective glove can permit the diffusion of a small quantity of substance after a short time, whereas another protective glove only allows diffusion after a longer time, but in a large quantity.
Therefore - if exposed to very toxic substances - it is essential to ask advice from the competent chemist. Specialists are available on request at the manufacturer of the protective gloves.
The permeation resistance to an identical product can vary according to the composition of the protective gloves
The permeation resistance to noxious substances can be different according to the type of protective glove.
This resistance of the protective glove is determined by the material and its thickness.
Table of chemical resistance
The above-mentioned simplified chart points out the very big variability of the chemical resistance of protective gloves to identical products; e.g. PVA-protective gloves (polyvinyl-alcohol) efficiently protect against trichlorethylene and toluene, whereas they dissolve in water.
As you can see on page 24 the permeation chart of chemicals issued by the manufacturer of protective gloves gives detailed information on their resistance.
The permeation resistance of an identical protective glove can vary from one product to another
The permeation resistance of an identical protective glove can be different according to the noxious substance used.
There is no general-purpose protective glove which protects against all noxious substances. If handling different chemicals, you must therefore use a separate protective glove for each of these products.
Detailed chart of chemical resistance
The permeation chart issued by the manufacturer of protective gloves gives detailed information on the resistance against chemicals.
Standard EN 374 defines 6 performance indicators of the breakthrough time of chemicals:
1) >10 minutes, 2) >30 minutes, 3) >60 minutes, 4) >120 minutes, 5) >240 minutes, 6) >480 minutes.