There are several things to consider when buying gloves:
- what kind of substance you may be handling – for example, body fluids or chemicals
- other hazards, such as a risk of cuts or puncture
- the level of dexterity and grip required
- the type of contact (splashes or immersion)
- the sizes required
- your organisation’s policies about latex allergies.
Your organisation’s risk assessment should indicate the instances when gloves are required and the kind of substance you may encounter.
There are several different glove materials, including latex, nitrile, and vinyl. They differ in thickness and dexterity. The appropriate material will depend on the substance you are handling.
Gloves can also be powdered or powder-free. Powdered gloves absorb perspiration and can be easier to put on, however, they carry an allergy risk and are not recommended for use in clinical care.
Gloves can be sterile or non-sterile.
- Nitrile gloves work well for situations where there is a risk of contamination.
- They react to your body temperature and conform to the shape of your hand for a high level of dexterity.
- Vinyl gloves are looser fitting than nitrile gloves.
- They are ideal for use in low-risk, short-term procedures that require lower strength and protection.
- Latex gloves are close-fitting and strong.
- They work well for high-risk tasks and environments.
- Following advice from the St John Ambulance medical committee, as well as concern for our many commercial customers, we do not sell any type of latex gloves due to risk of allergic reactions and recommends that vinyl or nitrile disposable gloves are purchased instead. Check your organisation’s policies on latex before ordering latex gloves from another provider.
Getting the size right for the wearer is important to ensure the gloves are comfortable. If employees know their comfort has been considered, it will also help encourage them to wear gloves.
Tight gloves can restrict circulation, making hands feel tired. Too large gloves can be loose, with less dexterity, making the task at hand harder. Use the Health and Safety Executive’s sizing chart to help select the right sizes needed: HSE glove size chart.
Longer gloves are required for total immersion. The length of the glove should be greater than the depth of immersion. Short gloves will protect the wearer if the contact is only from occasional splashes.
What gloves to put in your first aid kit
Vinyl gloves can split, therefore nitrile powder-free gloves are recommended for use in your first aid kit and clinical care where contact with body fluids is possible.
Other workplace uses for gloves
According to the Health and Safety Executive, gloves should be worn if:
- There is prolonged or frequent contact with water. Look for gloves that meet European Standard EN374-2 – this shows they are waterproof.
- The label of the product you’re using indicates gloves should be worn (for example, bottles of cleaning products may show hazard warning symbols). The label or safety sheet may give you information about what type of glove is needed.
- Harmful substances are created by work processes.
For more information, check the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance: HSE guidance on when to wear gloves.
It’s important to remember that wearing gloves is not a substitute for hand washing. Good hand hygiene should still be practised even if gloves are worn.
Take care to remove gloves safely so your hands do not come into contact with the harmful substance. Follow the Health and Safety Executive’s guide for safe removal of gloves: HSE safe removal of gloves.
Gloves can be single use or reusable. Gloves for clinical care are single use must be disposed of appropriately after one use.