Performance and safety standards
Hands are an important part of our anatomy and most of us would consider them vital for virtually every activity that we are involved in, from driving the car to cooking a meal. However, because they are in such common use, they are frequently exposed to the risk of injury. As one of the extremities of the body, they are also particularly vulnerable to hostile environments such as cold climates. Hand injuries account for nearly 10% of hospital accident and emergency department visits, with the most common causes of injury being blunt trauma (50%) followed by injury from a sharp object (25%).
The hazards that cause these injuries can often be difficult or impossible to remove and therefore it is often more practical to provide some form of hand protection. This has resulted in a billion dollar global industry manufacturing and supplying a wide variety of protective gloves and mitts.
Although protective gloves have been in use ever since mankind began to wear clothing, the industrial glove manufacturing business developed rapidly in the first half of the 20th century. Initially with gloves made of leather and rubber, but later moving on to products made from PVC. Since then there have been significant developments in both manufacturing techniques and the types of material used, resulting in a wider range of protection and improved fit and comfort.
It is estimated that the annual worldwide market for protective gloves is in excess of 90 billion pairs with an estimated retail value of nearly US $17bn. On a ‘pairage’ basis, the disposable medical sector is by far the largest user, accounting for around 85% of gloves used. However, on a value basis, because of their relatively low unit cost, the medical gloves’ share of the market drops considerably. In contrast, low volume products, which are complicated to manufacture – such as fire protective gloves – command significantly higher prices in the marketplace, enabling many niche manufacturers to survive.
General-purpose glove manufacture is now predominantly based in Asia which accounts for over 90% of production. It is estimated that about 75% of all protective gloves produced in the world are made for export. Western manufacturers still exist – particularly for the production of specialist and more complex high technology products. Consumption of protective gloves appears to be roughly split between Europe, North America, Asia and the rest of the world with each of the four areas taking between 20 and 30%.
Gloves are available that can protect hands and forearms from cuts, abrasions, burns, cold, puncture wounds, vibration, skin contact with hazardous chemicals and some electrical shocks. The nature of the hazard, the associated risk and the type of operation involved will affect the selection of gloves and it is essential that gloves are chosen that are designed for the specific application. Gloves designed to protect against one hazard may not protect against a different one even though they may appear similar.
Employers should conduct risk assessments for the given activity and consider the possibility of introducing engineering and work practice controls to eliminate hazards before opting for PPE (personal protective equipment). Protective gloves should only be used when the hazards cannot be completely eliminated through other means. The risk assessment should also identify the hazards from which the most appropriate types of protection can be identified. Using the wrong type of glove can cause injury. For instance cotton gloves can absorb dangerous chemicals which may lead to skin dermatitis, burns or cancer. Wearing gloves can also lead to additional hazards. Gloves worn around moving machinery such as lathes and millers can lead to an increased risk of entanglement that can lead to serious hand and arm injuries. These factors should all be taken into account when selecting products and glove manufacturers generally provide comprehensive user information to help with this selection.
The following are examples of some factors that may influence the selection of protective gloves for a workplace.
- Type of chemicals handled
- Nature of contact (total immersion, splash, etc.)
- Duration of contact
- Area requiring protection (hand only, forearm, arm)
- Grip requirements (dry, wet, oily) and general dexterity
- Thermal protection
- Size and comfort
- Abrasion/cut resistance requirements
Gloves made from a wide variety of materials are designed for many types of workplace hazards. In general, gloves fall into four groups:
|Glove type||Protection Offered|
|Metal mesh and aramide knitted||Cut resistance|
|Leather||Mechanical and physical hazards, heat resistance|
|Fabric and coated fabric||Abrasion, dirt, tear and cut resistance, thermal insulation|
|Rubber, plastic||Chemical resistance, electrical insulation|
Mechanical risk gloves
Gloves made from metal mesh (chain mail), provide high levels of cut resistance, whilst leather and man made fibres such as aromatic polyamide e.g. aramide fibres such as Kevlar and Nomex in knitted form provide protection against many mechanical and physical hazards including cuts and abrasions and burns.
Fabric and coated fabric gloves
Fabric and coated fabric gloves are made of cotton or man made fibres such as Nylon to provide varying degrees of protection. For example against dirt ingress, cutting and abrasion, and the degree of protection can be increased by adding a plastic coating such as PVC or PU. These gloves are used for a variety of material handling tasks. Some products are suitable for protection against chemical exposure hazards, but users should always check with the manufacturer or review the manufacturer’s product literature to determine the gloves’ effectiveness against specific chemicals and conditions.
Rubber and plastic gloves
Chemical-resistant gloves are predominantly made from rubber or plastic. As well as natural rubber, synthetics such as butyl, neoprene and nitrile are also used. Plastics include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyethylene. In addition to chemical applications rubber and plastic gloves are also used to provide protection against high voltages up to 36 000 V ac / 54 000 V dc.
Most industrialised nations have performance and safety standards for the most common groups of protective gloves. The European Union has the most comprehensive legislation in the form of Directive 89/686/EEC for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes requirements to check for restricted or banned substances used in glove manufacture.
SATRA is regularly requested to test and certify gloves against European and international standards. These standards have been developed by European, national and international standards bodies such as CEN (European standards), ISO (International standards) and ASTM (American standards) to provide test methods and performance criteria for the assessment of key protective features.
The foundation stones of the European requirements are EN 420 and EN 388, which cover mechanical risks and material characteristics (although you can use the PPE directive itself to CE mark rather than these standards). Other more specialist glove types, such as chemical or heat resistant gloves, have additional requirements but must also satisfy EN 420 or EN 388 before they can be certified and CE marked. EN 420 covers non-protective features such as the safety of the glove materials and has tests to determine the pH value (high and low values can cause skin irritation) and the presence of chrome VI which is a known carcinogen. Sizing and simple dexterity tests are also included. The standard also details comprehensive requirements for marking and associated user information.
Mechanical hazard glove testing
EN 388 : Gloves against mechanical hazards
This is the most common European Standard for testing gloves to be used in general industrial applications. It is also referred to in many of the specialist glove standards, for activities such as welding and handling of chemicals. EN388 was first published in 1994 and subsequently revised in 2003. It includes four main physical tests to assess the resistance of the gloves palm area to mild abrasion, cutting, tearing and puncture. The performance of the glove is graded in accordance with four or five performance levels. The end user is then able to select a glove with a performance level profile that suits a particular work activity. So for example, a glove could be performance level 4 for abrasion but level 1 for tearing (in European standards the higher the number, the greater the protection).
EN 1082 : Gloves for protection against hand knives
A European Standard originally intended for gloves to be used in the meat processing industry and worn by staff carrying out tasks such as cutting flesh from a carcass. These glove products are traditionally made from metal chainmail due to the high cut resistance and ability to be regularly steam sterilized without significant degradation. Hence, the testing and requirements in the original EN 1082 standard are geared specifically for chainmail products. However, since its original publication, two further parts have been added to EN 1082 to cover testing of gloves that are made from other materials such as fabrics and leathers.
EN 381-4 : Gloves against hand held chainsaws
By their very nature, chainsaws are extremely dangerous machines. The EN 381 series of standards covers how forestry protective clothing should be designed and tested to assess the level of protection afforded against cutting by a hand held chainsaw. Part 4 of the series is devoted to gloves and in addition to requirements based on the tests of EN 388, the standard includes cut resistance tests that use an electrically driven simulated chainsaw machine. The standard includes several performance classes based on the linear speed of the chainsaw chain at the start of the cutting test and the glove’s ability to resist cut through at that speed.
EN 13594 : Motorcyclists gloves
Another specialised standard, this time for assessing the level of protection provided by a glove during a potential accident while motorcycle riding. Where possible the standard draws on established tests such as those in EN 388 but in addition includes several particular tests to measure properties such as abrasion resistance following an impact and where applicable, the force transmitted through the gloves protective padding. The impact abrasion test is relevant to incidents when the rider falls from the motorcycle and slides along the road or riding surface. It was developed following studies of real accidents.
BS 7971-6 / BS 7971-7 Police gloves
BS 7971 is a UK series of standards that covers a variety of PPE used by persons who may be exposed to a threat of physical violence. The products covered include everything from riot shields to footwear. Parts 6 and 7 cover hand protection, one for slash resistance and the other for a riot glove. The latter includes the full range of EN 388 tests plus impact performance testing similar to that carried out on a motorcyclist’s glove.
There are now a number of standards for gloves worn to provide protection during various sporting activities. These standards have been drafted in a similar way and all typically include tests for measuring the protective coverage area, fit and ergonomics, effectiveness of adjustment/fastening systems plus ability to reduce harmful forces during impact with a fast moving ball or puck and secondary object such as play equipment, the ground or an opponent.
EN 374 chemical gloves
European Standard EN 374: 2003 consists of the following parts under the general title: “Protective gloves against chemicals and micro organisms”
Part 1: Terminology and performance requirements
Part 2: Determination of resistance to penetration
Part 3: Determination of resistance to permeation by chemicals
Part 1 details the performance criteria and also includes requirements to check the mechanical and physical integrity of the products.
Penetration resistance in part 2 is determined by subjecting the gloves to either air leak or water leak tests to determine if any holes are present which would allow chemicals to penetrate through to the users hand.
Part 3 specifies the determination of the resistance of protective glove materials to permeation by potentially hazardous non-gaseous chemicals under the conditions of continuous contact. Permeation is the process by which a chemical moves through a protective glove material on a molecular level. Gloves are classified according to the breakthrough time of the chemical through the glove material.
EN 60903 electrical resistance
Electrically resistant gloves are tested to EN 60903:2003. Standard assessments include checks on dimensions, finish, marking and packaging plus tests on basic mechanical performance, dielectric properties, the effects of various ageing treatments and thermal tests. The basic mechanical performance tests cover tensile strength and elongation at break, puncture resistance and tension set. Several performance levels are available for the dielectric tests up to a maximum use voltage of 36,000V ac or 54,000V dc.
The European Union and EFTA (the European Free Trade Association) have some of the most comprehensive legislation worldwide regarding the performance requirements and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and this covers all forms of protective gloves. There are two pieces of legislation that are closely related in terms of protective gloves. Directive 89/656/EEC – the ‘use’ Directive, covers the use of PPE at work and requires employers to provide suitable PPE to employees where a particular hazard cannot be eliminated by other means. European Directive 89/686/EEC the Personal Protective Equipment Directive covers minimum health and safety performance criteria and procedures for PPE placed on the market within the European Economic area to ensure it is fit for its intended purpose. It specifies in general terms what features should be addressed in the design of PPE and how it should be tested and certified. Products meeting the requirements of the PPE directive should be marked with the ‘CE’ symbol.
In order to CE mark protective gloves, manufacturers must submit examples of product to a ‘Notified Body’ for assessment. Notified Bodies such as SATRA, are Europe-based organisations which, have been appointed by Member State Governments and notified to the European Commission on the basis of their ability to carry out the examinations and tests required for marking of PPE.
Globally, the value of the CE marking process is well recognised and products that have been through the type approval process are in demand in many other world markets.
To conclude, whilst hand injuries still form a high percentage of accidents both at work and at home, many of them are easily preventable by wearing appropriate protective gloves. European legislation and standards place obligations on employers and manufacturers to provide safety equipment that is fit for purpose and provides adequate protection against a variety of hazards. Advances in material technology have enabled the development of more protective, better designed and more comfortable gloves, which if used more widely should lead to a reduction in injury statistics.
Published: 01st Jan 2009 in Health and Safety International