Do workplace first aiders need to wear gloves?

Written by James Reed
Jul 30, 2020

James is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

There has been much debate around the use of gloves for first aiders – when do they need to be worn? What size and material are best?

The revised guidance around first aid and health and safety practices, in light of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has brought up even more questions such as: can gloves help prevent the spread of coronavirus?

In this blog, we cut through the confusion and tell you everything you need to know about wearing gloves and keeping as safe as possible as a first aider.


Gloves against coronavirus?

Public Health England (PHE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend the use of gloves as a protective measure against Covid-19 for the general public.

Gloves can transfer germs to any and all surfaces touched, creating an even greater viral spread. There are also some concerns that gloves give a false sense of security and washing hands is a far better precautionary measure.

However, in a first aid scenario, wearing PPE, such as gloves, whilst providing first aid will create a barrier between you and the casualty. Remember, even if you wear gloves it is still important to wash your hands after helping someone.

The WHO advises the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands frequently, with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub if water isn’t immediately available. You also need to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands, as this is how the virus can enter your body.

It is important to remember that first aid has always had to consider the risk of infection, not just from coronavirus (Covid-19) but from other viruses such as HIV, hepatitis and other infections which have the potential to do harm.


When should gloves be worn?

Current guidance from the HSE and Public Health states that “Disposable gloves should be worn if physical contact is likely to be made with potentially contaminated areas or items.”

The latest Government guidance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in a first aid emergency states that: “Where it is not possible to maintain a 2 metre or more distance away from an individual, disposable gloves and a disposable plastic apron are recommended. Disposable gloves should be worn if physical contact is likely to be made with potentially contaminated areas or items.”

However, if PPE is not easily available in an emergency, then treat the casualty as normal but be sure to wash your hands at the earliest opportunity - every second counts and delaying help to get gloves can have a detrimental effect on the outcome for the casualty in a serious emergency.


Which glove material should I choose?

Gloves can be used for many different purposes. There are several different glove materials, including latex, nitrile, and vinyl. They differ in thickness and dexterity and the appropriate material can depend on any substances you are handling. In the context of first aid though, they must be CE marked as a medical device to offer protection.

Disposable nitrile gloves are a popular choice over latex and vinyl alternatives for the delivery of first aid. This is because nitrile gloves are produced from synthetic rubber, which does not contain allergy causing proteins that are found in latex gloves. Therefore, they pose a lower risk of allergic reactions for the wearer and the casualty, compared to latex gloves.

The synthetic material of nitrile gloves means that they are stronger, offering increased resistance to tears and punctures as well as being more flexible and elastic.


What size gloves should I wear?

Gloves should fit the wearer. Tight gloves can make hands feel tired and lose their grip. Gloves that are too large can create folds, which can impair work and be uncomfortable. The HSE has a gloves size chart to help you find the right fit for you and your staff.

And lastly…

Remember, wearing gloves is not a substitute for hand washing. Good hand hygiene should still be practiced even if gloves are worn.

You should take care to remove gloves safely, so your hands do not come into contact with any harmful substance. Gloves used for first aid must be single use and must be disposed of appropriately after use.

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Topics: First Aid

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