New glove standards: are you protected?

By Riki Edelsten, Ansell Occupational Healthcare
Monday, 06 March, 2006

Since the industrial revolution, management of worker safety and protection has constantly and dramatically evolved, with an ever growing focus on occupational health and safety. Even with these advancements in safety and protection it is estimated that each year, in Australia alone, the toll from workplace accidents and deaths actually exceeds the national road toll. The cost of workplace accidents annually is estimated at $30 billion. A staggering 2000 plus fatalities from workplace accidents and diseases occur per annum.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) in the 21st century is commonplace; however, it is not enough simply providing workers with just any safety equipment. PPE must be selected to suit both the application and individual to reduce accidents. Effective PPE can also increase productivity and impact positively on the bottom line.

International (ISO) and Australian/New Zealand (ANSI) Standards help to classify specific attributes of products, communicating the quality and protection levels of PPE. The standards provide a means to evaluate the performance of a product for consumers and provide buyers a way to determine if the PPE they purchase actually offers the protection required.

One set of standards, known as the 'AS/NZS 2161 Occupational Protective Gloves', has recently been revised. This set of standards has been devised to ensure gloves for industrial applications meet appropriate quality requirements. Complying with the standards is not compulsory for manufacturers, but may be seen as fundamental to safety mangers, providing essential performance information and peace of mind. But it is vital to know that these standards are voluntary, meaning not all manufacturers' products meet the standards.

Mechanical risks: AS/NZS 2161.3 (EN 388)

What is of particular relevance to customers when choosing appropriate protection includes Part 3 of the Occupational Protective Gloves standards, covering "protection against mechanical risks". A 'mechanical risk' or hazard is one that can be caused by the mechanical aggressions of abrasion, blade cut, tear and puncture. Performances in these areas are measured on a scale of 1 to 4 for abrasion, tear and puncture, and 1 to 5 for cut, using standard testing methods. The higher the rating, the better the glove performs. The information in this section is particularly relevant when accessing how a glove would perform in an industrial application. The Figure 1 pictogram is used to represent a glove's mechanical hazard performance.

Test Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Lecel 4 Level 5
Abrasion resistance (number of cycles) 100 500 2000 8000 -
Blade cut resistance (index) 1.2 2.5 5.0 10.0 20.0
Tear resistance (N) 10 25 50 75 -
Puncture resistance (N) 20 60 100 150 -

As you will see, there is a large difference between the rating levels, which indicates a significant difference in glove performance. The higher the rating, the better protection the glove offers.

Chemical risks: AS/NZS 2161.10 (EN 374)

Another area of particular relevance, when choosing appropriate PPE, is the section of the standards that covers "Protective gloves against chemicals". This section will assist in choosing the right glove for the particular chemical being handled. It is important to note that even the best-made, most sophisticated glove may not be the right glove. Knowing which glove for which chemical will reduce accidents, gloves spend and wastage.

High level chemical protection

The chemical hazards test measures a product's permeation performance to a range of chemicals from 10 distinct chemical groups. The product must be able to meet a minimum permeation level to at least three chemical groups in order to pass this test. Gloves with the symbol shown in Figure 2 offer the minimum permeation protection of more than 30 mins against the chemicals, as represented by the letters below the symbol. Each letter corresponds to one of the main chemical groups. While a glove may perform well against more than three chemical families, only the three highest are represented on the pictogram. The pictogram represents a glove that is recommended for handling the chemicals methanol, dichloromethane and toluene.

Code letter Chemical
A Methanol
B Acetone
C Acetonitrile
D Dichloromethane
E Carbon disulfide
F Toluene
G Diethylamine
H Tetrahydrofurane
I Ethyl acetate
J n-Heptane
K Sodium hydroxide 40%
L Sulfuric acid 96%
Chemical hazard - permeation resistance. A glove shall have at least a permeation performance level 2 (=>30 minutes) when tested against three chemicals taken from the above list.

Low level chemical protection

Gloves with the symbol shown in Figure 3 offer very basic protection, and do not provide more than 30 mins of permeation protection. These gloves offer a lesser level of chemical protection as advised by the manufacturer.

Performance level Acceptable quality level unit Inspection levels
Level 3 <0.65 G1
Level 2 <1.5 G1
Level 1 <4.0 S4

More information on chemicals in the workplace and glove selection can be found on the Ansell Chemsafe website. is a reference tool for Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) professionals, employers and employees responsible for selecting the correct protective gloves for chemical handling applications. The website includes SpecWare, listing over 160 chemicals and critical information to ensure safe glove selection.

Other parts of the standards that are of particular relevance to specialty applications include protection against thermal risks, cold and radiation to name just a few. All tests to comply with standards are performed by independent laboratories, while the ratings are for information and comparison purposes only. This allows you to compare two gloves and find out which one is better suited to your application.

The Australian Standards are designed to provide users with a clear set of guidelines for gloves intended for use in the workplace. The standards provide recommendations to ensure that the gloves selected will provide workers with adequate levels of protection and provide a guideline of what to look for in glove performance. Using gloves that do not have standards approval is less reliable and risky, especially when performing critical handling tasks. When choosing a glove, look at information provided by the manufacturer to ensure that your glove choice is the right one.

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