What you need to know about chemical-resistant PPE when dealing with workplace spills
Basically, the name says it all. The purpose of personal protective equipment (PPE) is to protect the wearer from any number of potential dangers. Be it exposure to a physical, chemical, ergonomic, or biological risk. Including things like encountering infectious diseases and body fluid, or a chemical spill.
For instance, when a spill occurs responders need to gear up in the appropriate PPE before entering the contaminated area. Similarly, donning PPE in healthcare settings is essential for infection control and disease prevention. Especially during eras of Ebola and the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this post, we’re going to reveal the different levels and use of PPE for workplace chemical spills.
Why you need PPE in the workplace
Use of personal protective equipment is more than just a recommendation. It’s a requirement by law. For instance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets limits for worker exposure to hazardous materials.
If workers cannot control a spill by normal means, OSHA states they must gear up in PPE. However, because all spills are different it’s important to choose the right PPE. Of course, the type that is necessary will depend on the situation.
Several other government bodies also offer PPE guidelines. Including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). And the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Some of which help protect public health interests during pandemics like the Coronavirus. For instance, healthcare workers using NIOSH-approved n95 respirators when caring for Covid-19 patients. And patients themselves with Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection wearing a surgical mask.
Fortunately, there’s a wealth of information about PPE available online. Including fact sheets and FAQs, some of which we link to above. Tip: official government website URLs end in “.gov”.
Types of Personal Protective Equipment
There’s a wide variety of personal protective equipment available for workplace use. In short, each type of equipment helps to minimize different health and safety risks for workers.
Some common PPE supplies include facepieces, like face masks, and eye protection safety glasses. Which help prevent eye and nose areas from sprays, dust, and other irritants.
In addition to face shield protection, earplugs and hard hats reduce hearing and head injuries. Meanwhile, gloves and steel-toe boots offer extra barriers for hand and feet safety.
Likewise, coveralls, aprons, and safety vests help with full body protection. Including harsh weather conditions when working outdoors, chemical splashes, or by increasing visibility.
Many kinds of PPE are not suitable for reuse due to hygiene reasons. Think disposable surgical masks or earplugs. Meanwhile, it is possible re-use some equipment like hard hats, eye protection, and face shields. But only after you employ cleaning agents such as hand sanitizer or disinfectant.
What are the different PPE Protection Levels?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines four levels of risk associated with chemical spills. You’ll find PPE supplies are readily available based on these varying risk levels. Ranging from “Level A” being the most secure to “Level D” being the least protective.
Offers the highest level of both skin and respiratory protection available. Level A PPE includes a whole body coverall with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The encapsulating suit construction has reinforced, sealed seams to prevent air from entering. When worn correctly, Level A offers a superior level of protection against chemicals and contamination.
This gear is appropriate for emergency responders to severe hazmat chemical spills and in oxygen-deficient atmospheres.
Like Level A, this PPE also has a SCBA respirator and industrial-grade garment materials for chemical splash protection. However, Level B PPE does not protect against airborne gas exposure. That’s because the unsealed garment seams leave the wearer vulnerable to chemical gasses.
Firefighters and other first responders might wear Level B PPE in environments where no harmful gasses are present.
Has similar garment chemical resistance to Level B, but with less respiratory protection. Most Level C PPEs contain a basic air respirator rather than a SCBA. These suits are only suitable when the contaminated area is deemed safe for air purifying respirators. That is, in areas with adequate oxygen levels.
Some examples where level C is worn may include laboratory, medical and healthcare settings. As well, at work sites where workers handle pesticides.
The lowest level of workplace protection is Level D PPE. There’s no respirator mask used in conjunction with these suits. In fact, most Level D PPE is a basic coverall or standard work clothes that offer minimal skin protection.
This level of PPE is commonly worn by factory, construction site, and general public health workers.
There are three factors that affect the chemical resistance of PPE:
- Exposure time to the chemical
- The exposure situation
- The properties of the chemical itself
Certain types of personal protective equipment tailor to specific chemicals and toxins. This is why it’s critical to identify the spilled materials before responders enter the contaminated area.
For example, disposable gloves may only offer chemical protection for few minutes. And obviously, some chemicals are more dangerous than others.
Therefore, you must know which chemical you are dealing with before attempting to cleanup a spill.
Your spill cleanup and prevention experts
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the different levels and use of personal protective equipment. Essentially, it’s a simple system put in place to help companies and responders select their protective suit and gear.
Many of our spill kits for sale include basic protection you’ll need for workplace cleanup situations. For example, gloves and protective eyewear.
This is a revision to a blog post with an original publish date of August 27, 2013