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Protective gloves – the most essential safety product

09 August 2022

Jennie Hollingsworth

When it comes to cleaning and/or tasks that involve physical exposure to substances and machinery, you won’t find a more universally necessary product than protective gloves. Whatever your industry – from healthcare to hospitality to heavy industry, and beyond – gloves are the unsung heroes that protect our most valuable tools – our hands – against a range of hazards, including biohazards such as pathogens (including bacteria and viruses), and certain chemicals.

phs Direct offer a comprehensive range of household, disposable and industrial gloves that provide high quality protection for every task and environment.

Vinyl, latex, polythene and nitrile gloves all have different uses, and the choice can feel overwhelming. As the UK's leading hygiene, cleaning and safety services provider we can help you make the right purchasing decision. Learn more about which type of protective glove is best for your needs in our in-depth guide.

Hazards you need to protect against

Gloves – in conjunction with other safety wear – protect against a broad range of hazards and it’s important to carefully consider why you need them before deciding which to purchase. Here’s an overview of common types of hazards you may encounter in your profession.

Note – strict care must be taken to follow any organisational policies and procedures that relate to hazardous tasks and environments.

Chemicals and Biohazards

Chemical hazards and biohazards fall into three categories which can take the form of liquid, gas, powder or vapor that can be inhaled and/or absorbed into the skin:

  • Harmful and toxic substances – these range from cleaning products that cause mild irritation to lab-based chemicals that can burn or penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, causing risk of serious harm.
  • Corrosive substances – these are toxic substances that can also damage or destroy other materials on contact, including living tissue such as skin. Examples are hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, ammonium hydroxide, and sodium hydroxide. All of which can be found in powerful cleaning products.
  • Infectious substances – these are biohazards that include bacteria, viruses, parasites, moulds and fungi, which may be found in substances such as chemicals, blood and blood products, human and animal waste, food and plant materials.

Depending on your task, your hands may be splashed or immersed in the substance and exposed for either long or short periods. Consideration of these factors is highly important, as certain material properties of each type of glove will be crucial:

  • Breakthrough time – the time it takes for the chemical to travel through the glove material.
  • Permeation Rate – the time it takes for the chemical to pass through the glove once breakthrough has occurred. This involves the absorption of the chemical into the glove material, migration of the chemical through the material, and then de-absorption once it is inside the glove.
  • Degradation rating – this is the physical change that will happen to the glove material as it is affected by the chemical. This includes, but is not limited to swelling, shrinking, hardening, cracking, etc. of the glove material.


Depending on the task or environment, professionals may be exposed to extreme heat or cold involving touch for short or prolonged periods. This includes handling frozen food products or using hot machinery and can lead do discomfort or even serious harm. It’s important to look for gloves that can help withstand these conditions as comfortably as possible. 

Cuts, punctures, abrasions and mechanical hazards

Cut-resistant gloves are designed to protect against slashes from blades or abrasive surfaces, equipment and machinery.  When choosing gloves for workers, consider whether they’ll need protection from and punctures (from jagged edges or needles) as well.

Latex, vinyl, polythene or nitrile – which ones to choose?

phs Direct stock a wide selection of gloves in different materials depending on the hazards workers may be exposed to in their profession. Below we’ve listed some of the benefits and differences between laxex, vinyl, nitrile and polythene gloves.


Made from natural rubber latex. These are a general-purpose glove often referred to as household gloves and are designed for use in minimal risk environments for household, janitorial and food applications. The high-quality latex gloves supplied by phs Direct are resistant to alcohols, ready to use synthetic detergents, soaps, diluted alkalis and acid solutions. The material is generally comfortable to wear, making latex a popular choice, although they can cause mild irritation in people with a latex allergy.


A type of disposable glove made from synthetic PVC. They are commonly used for food handling, food preparation, low-risk health care applications, light clean-up jobs, and repetitive assembly line or manufacturing tasks. These gloves offer a low level or protection due to their thinner, less durable or elastic material than nitrile or latex and so are commonly used in non-hazardous situations and low-risk infection environments such as in the food and beverage hospitality. They are an allergy-free alternative to latex and often come powdered, making them easier to put on. 


Often used for typical chemical applications due to their high level of chemical and puncture resistance. They can stand up to moderate to heavy use without sacrificing much sensitivity and dexterity and are lightweight and breathable to wear. They are sterile, disposable gloves that are used for medical examinations and procedures, offering a high quality and dependable glove. They are latex-free, which reduces the risk of allergy.

Nitrile is naturally resistant to oils and can offer extra protection for people working with oily substances such as motor oils, adhesives like epoxies, and other petroleum-based chemicals or lubricants.


A type of highly affordable, disposable synthetic glove suitable for a variety of environments, particularly the food service industry since they provide enough durability to handle light, short-duration tasks. They are powder free, reducing the risk of dust contamination. They are also latex free, minimising allergic reactions.

Quality matters – know your safety standards

There are several potential safety standards that protective gloves may need to conform to, depending on their recommended usage. The following is a brief exemplar (but not exhaustive) list of common standards to look out for with your gloves:

EN420 – basic standard

EN511 – cold

EN455 – medical

EN407 – thermal

EN340 – general protective clothing

EN374 – chemical and micro-organisms

EN388 – blade, puncture, tear, abrasion



At phs Direct our account managers are experts in their field and can advise you on the best recommended safety products to meet your specific protective needs.

Contact phs Direct today or set up an account to start getting the most out of your cleaning, hygiene and safety supplies.