More reasons for not wearing disposable gloves in the lab!

Readers of this very occasional blog will remember that I have discussed at some length the reasons why the wearing of gloves in the lab may, counter-intuitively, put us, our students, and our fellow lab workers at greater risk than riding their flasks bearback.

[A photograph of a cardboard box]

A box containing many boxes of a hundred blue or purple disposable nitrile gloves. Look closely at the pictograms at the bottom.

Our Safety Officer, Ian Watts drew my attention today to a symbol that appears on the boxes of gloves  (as opposed to “gloveboxes” which means something very different). Have a look here at right.

[A pictogram indicating chemical resistance]

A pictogram referring to the chemical permeability of the glove.


Notice that there is a small icon on the bottom right which shows a shield containing a beaker that has a liquid in it. A closeup is shown at right.

The icon is very important. EN374-3: 2003 refers to the European Norm governing the performance of chemically resistant gloves (UKIP and Conservative Party readers please note that the EU does more than regulate the shape of bananas!)

It is defined here in the EU Guide “The Right Glove”. This is what it means:

The ‘Low Chemical resistant’ or ‘Waterproof ’ glove pictogram is to be used for those gloves that do not achieve a breakthrough time of at least 30 minutes against at least three chemicals from the defined list, but which comply with the Penetration test.

In other words these gloves are not designed to protect you against solvents or other “chemicals” that you are likely to encounter in the lab – yes they protect you from aqueous solutions, but not much more than that.

If you wear them when doing chemistry involving organic solvents then you are lulling yourself into an illusion of safety, while at the same time looking very “professional” and competent.

Wake up! Safety is a much bigger issue than simply slipping on a lab coat, some specs and some gloves while keeping your brain switched off.

You can take the gloves off for most operations, making sure that if you spill stuff you wash your hands very thoroughly with soap and water. Above all, by feeling like you’re doing something a little bit dangerous you will probably behave much more carefully.

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About Andrea Sella

My name is Andrea Sella. I teach and do research in chemistry at UCL in central London in the UK. I also spend a lot time doing public science, and worrying about how to keep my family's energy consumption down.
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3 Responses to More reasons for not wearing disposable gloves in the lab!

  1. Pingback: The gloves conundrum | ScienceDemo.org

  2. Bob Worley says:

    Andrea
    Spot on and here is another problem we find with students. You do not know you have a drop of a chemical on the glove and then you touch your face, or worse, your eye. If a solvent gets on the hand, it is instinctive to wash it off. Naturally with corrosive materials one wears gloves but the right ones. One teacher got bromine on a disposable glove and in taking the glove off removed her skin. This incident made CLEAPSS (www.cleapss.org.uk) do quite a bit of research on suitable gloves.
    Bob Worley, Chemistry Adviser (rtd) at CLEAPSS

  3. bu mami says:

    Wake up! Safety is a much bigger issue than simply slipping on a lab coat, some specs and some gloves while keeping your brain switched off.

    You can take the gloves off for most operations, making sure that if you spill stuff you wash your hands very thoroughly with soap and water. Above all, by feeling like you’re doing something a little bit dangerous you will probably behave much more carefully.

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