I have just re-ordered general work gloves for our grounds-care crew and my supplier told me it may be the last time he would be able to sell me the type that we like. He said it was something to do with a new EU regulation but I am not aware of anything affecting gloves. Do you know what he meant?

When we think of gloves it is usually the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002, concerning the supply and use of PPE, that come to mind. In this instance, however, I suspect your PPE supplier was referring to something different: a system called REACH. REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals. It is the new system for controlling chemicals in Europe and became law across the EU on 1 June 2007.

REACH covers most chemical substances that are manufactured or imported into the EU. This can be a substance in its own right or in a mixture such as paint. But it also includes substances that make up articles (objects produced with a special shape, surface or design) - this means everything from cars to clothing.

The system requires substances that are made or imported in quantities of one tonne or more per year to be registered with the new European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki. Basically, a dossier detailing the substance's properties and other relevant information must be provided by the manufacturer or importer.

It sounds as though the gloves you use are not going to be registered - perhaps because of substances included in the manufacturing processes.

When sourcing replacement gloves you should be aware of the legal standards. For general protective gloves look for those passed to EN420. These contain no chromium, have neutral pH and are assessed for comfort and transmission and absorption of water vapour.

Other standards you should be aware of include EN388 for mechanical hazards, EN407 for thermal hazards, EN511 for cold and EN381-7 for handling chainsaws. EN374-3 is what you need for chemical hazards and EN374-2 for micro-biological hazards. When you look for the EN number on gloves, you should also look for a series of numbers beneath the pictorial symbol. These numbers refer to performance levels.

Gloves conforming to EN388 Mechanical Hazards should have a series of four digits - each from 1 to 4, and occasionally 5. You might have, for example, 2 1 3 2. These refer to abrasion, slicing, tearing and perforation - in that order. The numbers themselves represent a grading system whereby 1 is "minimum", 2 is "good", 3 is "very good" and 4 or more is "excellent". 0 indicates nil (no protection) and X means the product was not tested for that feature.

In our example of 2 1 3 2, the gloves thus labelled have good resistance to abrasion, minimum resistance to slicing, very good anti-tearing properties and good resistance to perforation. Such gloves should be supplied with an information notice detailing conditions of use, available sizes, storage and cleaning instructions, performance levels and their meanings, pictograms and details of the lab issuing the certification.

It is also worth taking time to find gloves that fit. Too often, gloves come in small, medium and large. A comfortable fit is vital in terms of safety when using kit or handling sharp equipment but can also affect how well you do a job.

Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 25 years, and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.


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