EN388 Glove Ratings Explained

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What does EN388 mean?

EN388 is a European safety standard for gloves that provide protection against mechanical risks. This standard involves 6 specific tests that are designed to assess the performance of a glove and its fabric/layers.

Although the EN388 standard is not an Australian Standard, since its inception it has become the benchmark in performance ratings for the glove manufacturing and safety industry.

What do the numbers on safety gloves mean? Specific test methods, marking and information must be supplied in order for gloves to comply with EN388. This includes information on the risk of:

  • Abrasion Resistance

  • Circular Blade Cut Resistance

  • Tear Resistance

  • Puncture Resistance

  • Straight Blade Cut Resistance

  • Impact Resistance (if the glove has impact protection)

This is displayed on the glove with the below pictogram, followed by four numbers and or, or two letters. These numbers and letters indicate the performance level of the glove.


There is a performance level indicator for each risk indicator. The higher the number or letter, the greater the protection level. The standard is only applicable if the gloves meet at least level 1 or level A for at least one of the EN388 protective categories. If a glove is being tested for impact protection it will achieve one of three ratings: Pass (P), Fail (F) or Not tested (X).

The New EN388 Standard In 2016, EN388:2003 received some important updates to become the new glove standard, EN388:2016. The updated standard included two new additional tests for gloves to pass. Glove performance, technology and materials have dramatically improved over the past several years, causing innovations in cut resistance to continue to surface. As a result, this requires testing that is more accurate and precise. The EN388 standard was therefore updated to help improve transparency around cut scores and performance so workers can make informed decisions about the safety gloves they choose. As glove manufacturers have been given five years (until 2021) to comply with the new standards, you will still see many gloves with the EN388:2003 shields with only four indicators instead of six.

How to understand EN388

EN388:2003 testing procedures

A = Abrasion Resistance

A glove’s abrasion resistance refers to how many times it can withstand abrasive pressure from sandpaper. Measured in revolutions, a glove with a low abrasive resistance may only survive 100 revolutions (level 1), whereas a glove with a high abrasive resistance can withstand over 8,000 (level 4). Abrasion resistance is especially important for handling rough materials such as bricks. [endif]

Abrasion Resistance

B = Coup Cut Resistance (Circular Blade Cut Resistance)

A glove’s blade cut resistance is determined by how many times a blade, at equal pressure, can pass the glove before it cuts through. This test involves a rotating circular blade (as shown below) moving horizontally in a continuous circular movement, across a glove fabric sample, with a fixed force of 5 Newtons applied from above. The test is completed when the blade has broken through the sample material and the result is then specified as an index value. This result is determined by the cycle count needed to cut through the sample and additionally by calculating the degree of wear and tear on the blade. The level of protection is indicated on the glove with a number between 1 and 5 (with EN388 level 5 cut resistance being the highest level of performance).

Gloves with a high blade cut resistance are ideal for working with potential sharp materials such as sheet metals and glass. So, what are cut 5 gloves? The highest circular blade cut resistance level a glove can receive is level 5, therefore, cut resistant gloves that achieve a level 5 are often referred to as cut 5 level gloves.

Cut Resistance

Although blade cut resistance is a good measure, always take into account the straight blade cut resistance as well. If the sample material blunts the blade during the coup test then a test from the ISO cut resistance test is to be performed. This is to ensure the protection performance value of the glove is as accurate as possible. If blunting does occur during the coup test, the results of the ISO cut resistance test will be the default marking shown on the glove, and the coup test value will be marked as X.

C = Tear Resistance

Tear resistance refers to how easily a glove can be torn. To check tear resistance, the sample material of a safety glove is firstly slit. The force needed to tear the material serves as a benchmark. Gloves with a high tear resistance withstand greater pressure, and therefore are able to withstand tougher working conditions. Some gloves can withstand up to 77Nm. Tear resistance levels go up to level 4 which equates to 75 Newtons).

Tear Resistance

D = Puncture Resistance

Puncture resistance indicates a glove’s resistance to punctures. The EN388 puncture test is based on the amount of force required to puncture a glove’s sample material with a tip. High puncture resistance is especially important what handling dangerous objects such as needles, syringes and thorns, making them ideal for waste work. Puncture resistance is determined by how much pressure is required to break through the glove. Level 4 is the highest puncture resistance level a glove can receive.

Puncture Resistance

EN388:2016 Additional testing procedures

E = EN ISO Cut Resistance (Straight Blade Cut Resistance) Cut resistant gloves can save hands from injuries caused by sharp objects. Even light duty jobs are susceptible to minor cuts or abrasions, so it is important to take into account a glove's cut rating. The objective of this new test is to determine the resistance of the safety gloves by applying great force to the sample fabric in a single movement, rather than in continuous circular movements like in the coupe test.

Blade Cut Resistance

The cut rating is determined by how much force, measured in Newtons, is required to cut through the glove fabric. This test (as shown below) involves a blade cutting with constant speed but increasing force until it breaks through the sample glove material. This method allows for an accurate calculation of the minimum force required to cut the sample material at a thickness of 20mm.

The lower the rating, the lower the cut resistance offered by the glove. Low level cut rating gloves are suitable for regular parts assembly and material handling. High level ratings should be used wherever potentially sharp objects are handled.

Straight blade cut resistance is measured from level A (lowest) to level F (highest).

F = Impact Protection In some working scenarios, the back of the hand also requires protection. This is provided in the form of impact protection. Gloves with impact protection protect the hand from crushing, pinching and impact from above. These are usually identified by their durable outer shell, made up of solid rubbery material.

This test is only applicable to gloves that have impact protection and is recorded as a pass (P) or fail. The gloves are tested by being struck with 2.5kg with an impact energy of 5J, the peak force is then recorded. Gloves must meet a minimum requirement of a mean transmitted force less than or equal to 7.0kN with no individual result more than 9.0kN.

Impact Protection

EN388 Performance Levels

Puncture resistance

Glove Markings

To comply with EN388 requirements, the mechanical properties of the gloves must be shown as the mechanical shield pictogram and printed on the packaging and on both gloves within a pair. The pictogram should only be used if the glove meets at least level 1 or level A for at least one of the EN388 protective categories. You may see an X used instead of a number where a glove has not met a performance level of at least 1, it, therefore, would also not have a straight blade cut resistance rating. An X will also be used to note blade cut resistance where a superior cut rating (ISO cut resistance) has been achieved.

Other European (EN) Glove Ratings

Additional European glove ratings include EN420 general requirements for protective gloves, EN374 protection against chemicals and/or microorganisms, EN407 heat resistant gloves, EN511 protection against cold and EN421 protection against ionising radiation and radioactive contamination.

Not sure if the cut-proof gloves you are using are correct? Contact the ATOM Safety team for advice.

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