Gerda Röckel-Schütze, Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA), Germany
- 1 Introduction
- 2 European directives concerning protective gloves
- 3 Definitions
- 4 Work-related skin diseases
- 5 Different types of protective gloves (based on different hazards) including general requirements
- 5.1 General requirements
- 5.1.1 Innocuousness of the material
- 5.1.2 Cleaning
- 5.1.3 Electrostatic properties
- 5.1.4 Glove sizes
- 5.1.5 Resistance of glove materials to water penetration
- 5.1.6 Water vapour transmission and absorption
- 5.1.7 Dexterity
- 5.1.8 Marking
- 5.1.9 Information supplied by the manufacturer
- 5.2 Protective gloves against mechanical risks
- 5.3 Protective gloves against chemicals and microorganisms
- 5.1 General requirements
- 6 Selection of gloves
- 7 References
- 8 Links for further reading
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 hazard prevention 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 directive . 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 Directive and the consequences for the gloves on the market are presented.
This information relates to the following typical occupations such as:
- Motor vehicle repair
European directives concerning protective gloves
There are two European Union directives 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 directive comprises the rules for placing PPE on the European market Directive 89/686/EEC . This Directive specifies two categories of PPE to cover “minimal” and “mortal” or “irreversible” risks. Directive 89/686/EEC divides PPE into three groups based on the type of risks they sufficiently address and lays down different certification procedures for individual groups of equipment. These are named in the Directive as "simple design", "complex design" and neither of these, the last being the third category. Whilst the Directive does not explicitly define these three groups as categories, it is common practice to use the terms category I, III and II respectively. The category I gloves manufacturer has to draw up a technical file and then is allowed to affix the “CE” label without the participation of a notified body. Category II and III gloves need to be tested by an accredited laboratory and certified by a notified body. Category III products have to pass Article 11 requirements . The manufacturer of the gloves (in Category II and III) has the right to label his product with the “CE” label only if he has obtained the EC Type Test Certificate for his product in compliance with the named Directive. The certification is preceded by material, functional and design tests in specialised laboratories which usually conform to European standards.
EN 420:2003+A1:2009 Protective gloves :
Part of the body from the tip of the middle finger to the wrist.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) that protects the hand or part of the hand from hazards. It can additionally cover part of the forearm and arm.
- Glove palm
Part of the glove that covers the palm of the hand, i.e. from the wrist to the base of the fingers.
- Glove back
Part of the glove that covers the back of the hand.
Manipulative ability to perform a task.
Situation that can be the cause of any harm or damage to the health of the human body.
- Level of performance
Number that designates a particular category or range of performance by which the results of testing can be graded. The level of performance is determined by the result of the corresponding test as described in the specific standards (…). A high level number 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.
EN 374-1:2003 Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms :
The chemical’s passage through the material by diffusion. Permeation performance is expressed as the breakthrough time at a defined permeation rate.
Flow of the chemical through porous material, pin holes, etc.
Degradation is damage caused by changed properties of the glove material after contact with a chemical. Degradation may cause colour change, swelling, hardening, etc.
Skin diseases associated with a particular field of work are very common, and the hands are typically affected. These skin 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.
Different types of protective gloves (based on different hazards) including general requirements
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 420  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.
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 . Chromium-VI content in leather gloves shall be less than the detection limit for this method.
Natural rubber gloves shall meet the requirements stated in EN 455-3  on extractable protein content. Other chemicals used in the production of protective gloves (e.g. dimethylformamide) may eventually prove to be harmful. For some of the discussed chemicals, there may be limit values in the European standards or in various European 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.
If required, the electrostatic properties shall be tested according to the test methods described in the relevant standard EN 1149-1  or EN 1149-2  or EN 1149-3 . These standards have been developed for garments and unfortunately do not contain any specific requirements for protective gloves. However, the test result shall be reported in the information supplied by the manufacturer, accompanied by the information stated in 7.3.11. No pictogram is allowed to be used.
Currently in 2013 there is a new standard in preparation for defining the properties of protective gloves, with a specific test method and requirements for gloves. For example, the electrostatic properties of a protective glove should not be seen in isolation, but can be combined, for example, with chemical protection if the work is done in explosive atmospheres.
There are six glove sizes (sizes 6 to 11) defined in the standard, which are presented in Table 1.
|Glove size||Fit||Minimum length of glove in mm|
Source: EN 420 
Resistance of glove materials to water penetration
If the glove materials are resistant to water penetration, they should be tested with an appropriate test, such as:
- For leather gloves: 5.12 of EN 344-1:1992  (time for penetration);
- Alternative test method, more appropriate for textile materials: EN 20811  (pressure in Pascal).
These tests are not suitable for waterproof gloves, which are tested with a variety of test methods, e.g. EN 374-2 ].
Water vapour transmission and absorption
If possible, the protective gloves shall allow water vapour transmission. If required, the gloves shall have a water vapour transmission of at least 5 mg/(cm² × h).
The dexterity of a glove is determined with a practical test. 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.
European standards for personal protective equipment (PPE) demonstrate its conformity to the basic health and safety requirements of the EC Personal Protective Equipment Directive. Only equipment meeting these requirements is eligible to carry a CE mark and be sold for use in the EC. 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 the Directive 89/686/EEC 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);
- If necessary, date of obsolescence;
- Where the glove conforms to one or more specific European standards pictogram(s), appropriate standard(s), standard(s) and the levels of performance in the sequence as defined in the corresponding standard
- 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.
Each packaging enclosure that immediately contains the gloves shall be clearly marked with the following:
- Name and full address of manufacturer or his authorized representative;
- Name of the glove (commercial name or code);
- If necessary, date of obsolescence;
- Where the glove conforms to one or more specific European standards pictogram(s), appropriate standard(s), standard(s) and the levels of performance in the sequence as defined in the corresponding standard;
- Information pictogram as information in the instructions for use;
- If applicable, "For minimal risks only".
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 388:2003  specifies the requirements, test methods, marking and user information for protective gloves against mechanical risks. These risks are abrasion, blade cut, tear and puncture. Abrasion resistance, puncture resistance and tear resistance are classified into four (4) performance levels. Blade cut resistance is classified into five (5) performance levels. A glove to be certified as a glove against mechanical risks shall meet minimum one (1) level of these four (4) properties.
Figure 1: Pictogram with levels of performance indicating protection against mechanical risks
Source: EN 388:2003 
Explanation of the numbers:
1. Number: Level of performance for abrasion resistance → 3
2. Number: Level of performance for blade cut resistance → 1
3. Number: Level of performance for tear resistance → 0
4. Number: Level of performance for puncture resistance → 0
“0” means that level 1 has not been achieved, while x indicates that the glove has not been tested for this property or the test method appears not to be suitable for the glove. The results of the tests do not directly correlate to the conditions in the workplace but are useful for a comparison of different types of gloves
Protective gloves against chemicals and microorganisms
EN 374 consists of three parts:
- Part 1: Terminology and performance requirements ;
- Part 2: Determination of resistance to penetration ;
- Part 3: Determination of resistance to permeation by chemicals .
The terms and definitions are laid down in Part 1 . There are also the references to Part 2  and Part 3  in which the test methods for the resistance to penetration and permeation are described. The requirements and the levels of performance for these tests are also mentioned in Part 1 .
|Measured breakthrough time in min||Permeation performance level|
Source: 374-1 
|Penetration performance level||Accepable Quality Level unit||Inspection levels|
|Level 3||< 0.65||G1|
|Level 2||< 1.5||G1|
|Level 3||< 4.0||S4|
Source: EN 374-2 
In this case, the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL) is a statistical value for the number of the gloves with a hole in them in glove production. There are three different types of protective gloves in the EN 374-1 , which are marked as shown in Figure 2 to Figure 4.
Figure 2: Pictogram for protective glove against chemical risks with code letters (“Erlenmeyer flask”)
Source: EN 374-1 
Figure 3: Pictogram for waterproof gloves and low chemical protection (“beaker”)
Source: EN 374-1 
Figure 4: Pictogram indicating protection against microorganisms (mo)
Source: EN 420 
The pictogram for protection against microorganisms can be combined with the beaker or Erlenmeyer flask symbols, but the beaker and Erlenmeyer flask symbols shall not be combined. Each glove conforming to EN 374-1  must also fulfil the requirements of EN 420 . Additionally, the levels of performance of EN 388 shall be given in the glove’s instructions for use. This information gives the user information on the mechanical performance of the glove, because gloves used for building a house, for example, have to satisfy different requirements from those of working in a laboratory. Table 4 summarizes the tests for different types of gloves under EN 374-1 :
|Type of glove||Testing|
|Air leak test||Water leak test||3 chemicals of list|
with level 2
|Protection against chemical risks
AQL of < 4.0
AQL of < 4.0
|Waterproof gloves and low chemical
AQL of < 4.0
AQL of < 4.0
|Gloves for protection against
minimum AQL of 1.5
minimum AQL of 1.5
Table 5 presents a list of test chemicals in which the chemicals for the type test can be chosen.
|Code Letter||Chemical||CAS Number||Class|
|E||Carbon disulfide||75-15-0||Sulfur-containing organic compound|
|H||Tetrahydrofurane||109-99-9||Heterocyclic and ether compound|
|K||40 % sodium hydroxide||1310-73-2||Inorganic base|
|L||96 % sulfuric acid||7664-93-9||Inorganic mineral acid|
Source: EN 374-1 
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 materials.
The permeation test according to EN 374-3  may be performed for any chemical (at the specific workplace, e.g. hair dye). For the EC Type examinations, the manufacturer usually requests the chemicals of the list (Table 5). Any user may ask the glove or chemical manufacturer for the estimated breakthrough time for each chemical. The breakthrough time given, which is tested according to special permeation standards, does not indicate the time of use with chemical contact. Measuring the breakthrough at a higher temperature (e.g. 33°C) may be more realistic. These times could be much lower than at 23°C (e.g. 64 min at 23°C, 16 min at 33°C).
The breakthrough times of mixtures of chemicals also differ from those of pure chemicals. It can be dangerous to refer solely to the breakthrough time of the main component of a mixture. A small amount of a substance that permeates very fast can change the breakthrough dramatically. For complex mixtures it is important to measure the permeation. Chemical protective gloves can be made of different materials, such as:
- Nitrile rubber (NBR),
- Polychloroprene (CR),
- Butyl rubber (IIR, IBR),
- Natural rubber (NR),
- fluororubber (FKM),
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Not so commonly used glove materials are:
- Polyurethane (PUR),
- Polyvinyl alcohol.
Chemical protective gloves can also be manufactured from a combination of different materials or as multilayer laminates. No material provides protection from every chemical or product (physical risk).
Selection of gloves
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 (often mentioned on the packaging) and must never be reused. Medical gloves are not usually chemically protective, unless they are also certified as chemical protective gloves. There is a document from the European Commission  interpreting the situation that a glove may be an item of PPE and a medical device at the same time. In such cases, the glove has to fulfil the requirements of both directives, i.e. the revised Directive 93/42/EEC concerning medical devices , and Directive 89/686/EEC on PPE.
“Reusable” chemical protective gloves are often thicker gloves with a higher chemical and mechanical resistance. Tasks requiring high sensitivity may not then be performable. 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.
- Directive 89/686/EEC, European Commission. Personal Protective Equipment Directive. OJ L 399, 30.12.1989, p. 18–38. Available at: 
- Directive 89/656/EEC, Use of personal protective equipment. European Commission. OJ L 393, 30.12.1989, p. 18–28. Available at: 
- EN 420:2003+A1:2009 Protective gloves - General requirements and test methods, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 374-1:2003 Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 1: Terminology and performance requirements, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- HSE- Health and Safety Executive (no date). What are work-related skin diseases? Retrieved 23 May 2013, from: 
- EN ISO 17075 Leather - Chemical tests - Determination of chromium(VI) content, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 455-3: 2006: Medical gloves for single use Part 3: Requirements and testing for biological evaluation, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 1149-1:2006: Protective clothing - Electrostatic properties - Part 1: Test method for measurement of surface resistivity, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 1149-2:1997: Protective clothing - Electrostatic properties - Part 2: Test method for measurement of the electrical resistance through a material (vertical resistance), CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 1149-3:2004: Protective clothing - Electrostatic properties, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 344: Safety, protective and occupational footwear for professional use, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation. CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 20811: 1992: Textiles- Determination of resistance to water penetration- Hydrostatic pressure test, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 374-2:2003: Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 2: Determination of resistance to penetration, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN388:2003: Protective gloves against mechanical risks — Requirements and test methods, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- EN 374-3:2003: Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 3: Determination of resistance to permeation by chemicals, CEN - European Committee for Standardisation.
- Interpretation of the relation between the revised directive 93/42/ECC concerning Medical Devices and directive 89/686/ECC. European Commission, 2009. Available at: 
- Directive 93/42/EEC Medical devices, European Commission, OJ L 169 of 12 July 1993. Available at 
- DGUV - Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e.V., BGI/GUV-I 868 E Chemical Protective Gloves, 2009. Available at: 
Links for further reading
IFA - Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (9 November 2011). Which glove is suitable?. Retrieved 01 September 2014, from: 
DGUV - Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e.V., BGI/GUV-I 868 E Chemical Protective Gloves, 2009. Available at: 
IFA - Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (no date), Gestis – database on hazardous substances. Retrieved 30 January 2013, from: 
HSE - Health and Safety Executive (no date). Choosing the right gloves - Example 1: a hairdressing salon. Retrieved 30 January 2013, from: 
HSE - Health and Safety Executive (no date). Choosing the right gloves - Example 2: a battery manufacturer. Retrieved 30 January 2013, from: