What safety standards apply to laboratory gloves?

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What safety standards apply to laboratory gloves?
Gloves are used everyday in laboratories to protect the staff from potentially harmful chemicals. To make sure the protection is adequate, a range of Europe wide standards have been developed so you can be confident that the gloves you buy will keep you safe. [caption id="attachment_11539" align="aligncenter" width="384"] Are my nitrile, vinyl or latex gloves compliant with all safety standards? Will my lab gloves protect me?[/caption] However with a large number of standards (many of which have recently changed) it can be difficult to understand what they all mean. We've taken a look at the most important standards and what they test for, to help clearly understand what compliance means.

Penetration testing of gloves

[caption id="attachment_11541" align="alignleft" width="190"]EN 374-2 penetration testing Testing gloves to EN 374-2:2014 standard for penetration testing[/caption] The standard; EN 374-2:2014 - Protective gloves against dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 2: Determination of resistance to penetration (previously was EN 374-2:2003)   The test; the gloves are tested against a specified air and water leak testing methods. This ensures that the gloves do not allow penetration by chemicals or micro-organisms - either through porous material, seams or tiny holes or defects.   Recent changes; the move from 2003 to 2014 version just changed some find wording on the test method and added an annex for manufacturers and auditors to use. The changes do not affect users of gloves.  

Permeation testing of gloves

[caption id="attachment_11543" align="alignright" width="218"]Permeation testing of gloves in accordance with EN 16523-1:2015 standard Permeation testing of gloves in accordance with EN 16523-1:2015 standard[/caption] The standard; EN 16523-1:2015 - Determination of material resistance to permeation by chemicals - Part 1: Permeation by liquid chemical under conditions of continuous contact (previously was EN 374-3:2003 - Protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 3: Determination of resistance to permeation by chemicals)   The test; a chosen chemical is loaded into a specialized tester along with the glove, so that the chemical is in full contact on one side of the glove. The test is performed at 23°C ±1°C. The other side of the glove is then observed until the chemical "breaks through" - breakthrough is defined as when the flow rate reaches 1 µg/cm2/minute. The test is repeated 3 times, with each result stated in minutes.   Recent changes; manufacturers of gloves must now repeat the test 3 times, and get results within ±20% of each other for each test. The lowest result (i.e. fastest breakthrough) must be declared. This is good news for users as the test is becoming more rigorous.  

Degradation testing of gloves

The standard; EN 374-4:2013 Protective gloves against chemcials and micro-organisms - Part 4: Determination of resistance to degradation by chemicals The test; glove samples are exposed to a chemical, then puncture resistance tests are performed on them. The result is a % - reflecting the change in puncture resistance between samples which have and have not been exposed to the chemical. This means the lower the %, the more resistant the glove is to chemical degradation. Recent changes; no recent changes have been made, but at the time of writing manufacturers are expecting this currently non-compulsory test to become compulsory in the future.  

More changes on the way...

The safety regulations surrounding laboratory gloves are regularly updated, with more changes expected to come soon.

Terminology and performance

[caption id="attachment_11545" align="alignleft" width="248"]Pictograms or symbols on lab gloves will change when EN 374-1 moves to EN ISO 374-1 Pictograms or symbols on lab gloves will change when EN 374-1 moves to EN ISO 374-1[/caption] One of the next key changes expected is in EN 374-1:2003 moving to EN ISO 374-1. This will change the beaker and flask icons sometimes seen on glove boxes, reclassifying them into Type A, B and C to better show the performance;
  • Type A - Level 2, 30 minutes minimum - tested with minimum of 6 chemicals
  • Type B - Level 2, 30 minutes minimum, tested with minimum of 3 chemicals
  • Type C - Level 1, 10 minutes minimum - tested with minimum of 1 chemical
This will likely mean that disposable gloves will mostly be Type B, while thicker reusable gloves will be Type A.

Virus resistance

[caption id="attachment_11547" align="alignright" width="245"]The new biological resistance symbols under EN 374-5 regulations (currently in draft format at time of writing) The new biological resistance symbols under EN 374-5 regulations (currently in draft format at time of writing)[/caption] The draft standard EN ISO 374-5 Protective Gloves against dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms - Part 5: Terminology and performance requirements for micro-organism risks may soon come into use. This will cover the resistance of gloves to bacteria, virus and fungi through use of a water or air leak test. If an additional test is passed, the biological resistance symbol may also sate "VIRUS" underneath This means users can differentiate those gloves which are resistant to viruses easily.      

How can I ensure my lab gloves are compliant with safety standards?

Always buy your lab gloves from a trusted manufacturer, and a trusted brand - particularly for high hazard work. Known and trusted manufacturers like Shield Scientific or Kimberley Clark will ensure they keep up to date with any changes to regulations, so you can be sure you are always compliant. Review the brochure or datasheet to check that they reference EN European standards. Ask the seller for more information or to recommend a glove for your work if you are at all unsure.     For more information about nitrile, vinyl or other laboratory gloves just follow the links here or contact us with any questions;
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