Surgical gloves are important in protecting medical staff from exposure to pathogens during surgery, especially viruses such as hepatitis B and the human immunodeficiency virus. We have studied the incidence and circumstances of surgical glove perforation using a sensitive electronic device. The glove perforation rate during elective general surgery was compared with that seen during an anastomosis workshop, where surgical trainees operated in a laboratory setting. A total of 220 gloves were tested for perforations pre- and postoperatively during general elective surgical procedures. During the surgical training workshop 72 gloves were tested. Fifty-two gloves (24%) were perforated during surgical procedures. Among surgeons, consultants had a significantly lower perforation rate than trainees (26% vs 46%, P < 0.05, chi 2), that for assistants was much lower (9%). The perforation rate for scrub nurses was surprisingly high at 22%. Glove perforation among trainees was significantly lower during workshop procedures than at elective surgery (17% vs 46%, P < 0.05, chi 2), probably because glove perforation occurs commonly at wound closure. Glove perforation remains very common, particularly among surgical trainees. Glove perforation should be reduced by teaching better techniques, especially 'no-touch', particularly for wound closure.