Many Safety Managers rely heavily on CE standards to ensure that the PPE they choose will provide protection. But is ensuring PPE is certified enough to safeguard your workforce?
It is important to correctly understand what a standard means and what it tells you in terms of safety in the real world. A simple misunderstanding could have consequences ranging from minor inconveniences to major accidents involving injury or even death. Even where standards are properly interpreted and used, if they are relied upon at the exclusion of other factors, consequences can be just as dire. Lakeland’s decades of experience of chemical protective clothing has given us an understanding of the common pitfalls. Avoiding them might be important.
This blog looks at some of the pitfalls in the use of standards and other issues in the selection of chemical safety clothing to help ensure safety managers avoid such traps.
1. Remember That EN Standards Provide Only an Indication of MINIMUM Generic Performance
Standards specify the minimum required performance for PPE. Yet the various factors in your application: the toxicity and nature of a chemical, the task itself and conditions in the environment might mean you need much higher performance level than the minimum. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that PPE certified to a relevant standard is necessarily suitable for your specific application… it may not be. Safety managers need to look deeper into standards and understand what they are telling you in order to assess suitability.
|The Standard for clothing designed to protect against hazardous dusts (EN 13982) not only states in its introduction that it provides minimum performance standards but that in some circumstances much higher levels of protection may be required – including in some cases a Type 1 gas tight suit!|
2. Don’t Ignore the Detail Within Standards… the Devil is Always in the Detail!
The detail can be important… and is sometimes not what you think…
Often the detail in a standard may recognize and identify higher performance levels that can guide safety managers in ensuring protection is appropriate:-
- Physical properties of protective clothing
Abrasion resistance, tensile and tear strength and so on – are all tested and classified (normally Classes 1 to 6 with 6 indicating the highest class) to indicate performance level and enable effective comparison with alternatives. This can indicate which products have higher strength properties than others – possibly important for your application
- Protection levels
EN 14605 for chemical protective clothing defines both Types 3 & 4 – different levels of liquid protection. Determining which applies in your application can be important in ensuring protection is appropriate and that the best combination of protection and comfort is achieved.
Meanwhile EN 14126 for protection against viruses and bacteria contains four tests assessing resistance against different types of contamination. Garments may perform differently in each tests and not all four must be conducted for certification, so users should ensure the right test has been done that fits with the application – and that a suitable classification has been achieved.
Many types of protection within individual standards, such as liquid protective clothing Types 3 and 4 and 6 are tested and classified for resistance against penetration or permeation of chemicals to indicate higher or lower protection levels. This can help determine you have sufficient protection for your specific application
- Different Types of protection within one standard
Standards often feature different types of protection within a single standard.
As well as understanding the usefulness of the detailed testing within standards, understanding what those tests actually tell you about the PPE performance is important.
For example, it is one thing to know of the existence of the garment physical properties tests… it is another to actually understand them; to understand how abrasion, tear strength or puncture resistance is measured… and what does it means in terms of the garment and how it will be effective for your application. Such understanding can help in ensuring PPE is suitable for the job. A summary of where to find and how to use mechanical property information for chemical suits can be found in our blog here
Meanwhile misunderstanding tests can be dangerous. There are many misunderstandings of commonly used tests. Such mistakes can mean workers are less protected than you think or even not protected at all.
|For example, permeation testing (according to EN 6529) is used to assess the resistance of chemical suit fabric to permeation by specific chemicals. Most users assume the use of the simple term “breakthrough” indicates when the chemical first breeches the fabric and so that it indicates how long a suit can be used safely. This is completely incorrect. In this context the term is specific and does not provide an indication of safe-use – which should actually be calculated separately through a manual calculation or tools such as Permasure®|
4. Don’t Ignore the Differences Between Chemical Protective Clothing Types
Standards for chemical protective clothing provide a useful guide to the garment Type required for different forms of chemical contact; dust (Type 5), liquid jet sprays (Type 3) and so on. The table below summarizes the Types:
|For example, breathable garments such as Safegard® can offer the best protection against dusts because of the “bellows effect”, or recognizing you have a Type 4 application rather than a Type 3 application can mean a choice of more flexible and comfortable options such as Lakeland’s Type 4 Cool Suit® along with all the comfort benefits that can bring.|
Understanding of the differences between Type 5 and 6 and especially those between Type 3 and 4 is often limited. Yet a clear understanding of these differences can result in a more effective choice of chemical suit offering better protection, better comfort or a more effective combination of both.
4. Don’t Just Accept Test Results as Either Indicative of the Real World or as always Accurate and Repeatable
The fact is, many of the tests required in standards are not always effective at assessing real world performance. It can be problematic in a lab to replicate real world conditions or to test PPE in the way it is actually used. Tests are intended to enable comparison of products under laboratory conditions, but often fail to be good indicators of real world performance.
For example, Secondary FR garments are used to provide chemical protection in conjunction with (i.e. when worn over) standard flame retardant workwear. They are certified to EN 14116 which consists of a simple pass or fail flammability test (ISO 15025) to assess tendency to ignite in isolation – not as they are used worn over a thermal protective garment. However, the test is a poor indication of real world performance and utterly fails to distinguish between the wide range of different quality products.
5. Don’t Just Accept Certification on the Face of It… Check the Details and Its Veracity
While the PPE Regulation introduced responsibility to confirm the veracity of PPE certification for distributors in 2015, for users it is important to recognize that even genuine certification is not always what it appears to be. Notified Bodies may allow manufacturers to certify to a standard whilst excluding certain clauses within it, or in other cases to certify a product that only meets the minimum requirements under certain additional conditions.
Two extreme examples of this are:-
- Some apparently certified Secondary Flame Retardant (FR) workwear has excluded the vital test on the zip introduced in the latest version of the standard in 2015. This means the zip has not been tested to ensure it doesn’t melt or malfunction and that the garment does not fully meet the standard. You can read more about this here.
- Some chemical suits are apparently certified to Type 3 & 4 – and yet careful analysis of User Instructions show Type 3 is only achieved through additional taping of the zip flap in the Type 3 test. Unless the same taping is done in the real world the suit is not Type 3.
Not recognizing exceptions like this in certification and testing might mean workers are not as well protected as you think they are.
Furthermore, counterfeit CE marking of PPE is not unusual and checking the veracity of product certification should be a standard part of a selection process. Counterfeit PPE may not have been tested and may not meet performance requirements – so you have no idea if it will do the job of protection claimed by the manufacturer or supplier.
All PPE should now provide easy access to Declarations of Conformity and users can request copies of CE certificates. Lakeland have made both readily available from the resources page on the web site:-
- CE certificates are available from https://www.lakeland.com/uploads/data-sheets/Europe/CE-Certificates/CE-Certificates.pdf
- Lakeland product Declarations of Conformity are available from https://www.lakeland.com/uploads/data-sheets/Europe/Declarations-of-Conformity/DeclarationsOfConformity_v3.pdf
Notified Bodies are the EC government appointed organizations authorized to assess and approve PPE through the use of certification to EN standards.
Declarations of Conformity and CE certificates include details of the certifying Notified Body – users should contact them for confirmation should any doubt about certification arise. Details of Notified Bodies (the government appointed organisations that certify PPE), identified by their unique identification numbers, are available from the EU Europa web site. This can provide contacts details – they can be contacted to confirm the veracity of certification of specific items of PPE.
Anomalies in certification of PPE as described here can often be discovered in garment user instructions. Click here to learn more about the importance of reading PPE users instructions.
6. Bear in Mind That Testing Might Not Mean What You Think It Means
When assessing PPE it can be important to understand how testing is done and what it tells you. Partly because it is not always what you might think… and that might be important.
For example, certification of chemical protective clothing through Types 3 to 6 includes pass/fail tests to assess penetration of liquids or dust inside the garment when subjected to simulated liquid sprays or (for Type 5) to a dust saturated environment. The video below for example shows the Type 4 spray test.
Whilst these tests are useful tools in assessing performance, for users it can be important to be aware that a “pass” does not necessarily mean that NO penetration has occurred. In fact these tests do allow a minimal level of penetration – and in terms of the dust test, a considerable amount of penetration (up to 15% per suit).
Why might this be important?
Because if you are protecting against a chemical with a very high toxicity you might need to know that some penetration inside a suit may occur. With some chemicals even low levels of penetration could be important.
7. Don’t Neglect Other Properties of the Chemical; Permeation is Not the Only Important Factor
|For example a focus on the liquid spray type and fabric permeation resistance might be meaningless if that chemical has a relatively low boiling point. A vaporized chemical will behave like a gas and not like a liquid… so a liquid protection suit and its permeation resistance can become largely irrelevant because the vapor may penetrate through gaps between PPE rather than permeate through the fabric.|
The fact that samples of every PPE suit undergo rigorous testing as part of certification is important, but no amount of laboratory testing can account for all the possible variables in nature of the chemical, your specific task or peculiar factors in the environment where the task takes place. Choosing effective chemical safety products for your workforce requires a holistic approach.
8. Don’t Forget to Consider Possible Effects of the Task and Environment
A focus on the clothing might result in a failure to fully consider the task and environment and the resulting physical demands it might place on the garment. A garment with particular strength properties (abrasion or tear) could be more effective in some applications, or a more ergonomic suit design could be required if the wearer will be performing specific movements such as climbing ladders, crawling or working in confined spaces. Never fail to consider aspects of the task and environment that might place particular stresses and strains on a garment, so that specific strength properties or design elements (such as a need for knee-pads where an operator is regularly crawling) might be needed.
9. Don’t Assume That Comfort is Just About Comfort… It’s a Safety Issue!
Comfort is not just an optional luxury… it is also a safety issue. PPE that is unnecessarily uncomfortable is often not worn correctly. Users may leave a zip partially down to allow air circulation, or they may regularly adjust a suit in a critical area, leaving themselves exposed.
So consider ways of maximizing comfort without compromising protection beyond the point that it can be safely compromised – such as the use of Cool Suits or different designs. Choosing the right chemical suit is about making sure users are not OVER-protected as well as that they are ADEQUATELY protected. As PPE is always a compromise between protection and comfort, if workers do not wear PPE properly because they are so uncomfortable, it may be safer to look at what options are available to shift that balance more towards comfort.
10. Don’t Ignore the Need for Training
You might select the best chemical suit in the world, but it will do a poor job of protection if users are not trained how to use it properly. Understanding the chemical hazard, donning and doffing processes, understanding the hazard of adjusting PPE in critical areas… all are important in ensuring your selected chemical suit does the job it should.
11. Don’t Ignore Those Who Actually Wear the Suits in the Selection Process!
Finally, don’t ignore users in the process of PPE selection. They know the application better than anyone and can provide invaluable input. Furthermore, involving them will also have the benefit of encouraging ownership of the project making any changes and new processes easier to initiate. Over the years I have lost count of situations where PPE selected by managers is rejected by workers simply because they were not involved and not consulted – not because there was anything wrong with the chosen PPE. Involving users in the selection process will actually make the safety managers’ job easier!
Conclusion: Standards are Useful. But a Holistic Approach is Vital.
Safety clothing and equipment standards are important, useful and are a vital part of the selection process. However, they cannot be used in isolation or taken at face value. Safety managers need to understand where standards fit into the selection process and that they provide a useful starting point once a risk assessment has identified the hazard, the risk and all the other factors that might be important.
And the devil is in the detail! Managers need to understand the relevant standards properly; what they mean, what they tell you, how tests are done, their specific limitations and how that may affect selection, management and use of PPE.
Spending time on ensuring an effective PPE selection process and avoiding the common pitfalls outlined in this blog will help in ensuring you choose the best and most effective (and cost-effective!) chemical suit for the job, ensuring workers are protected as they should be and achieving the best combination between protection, comfort and cost.
You can read more about how to choose effective safety clothing and procedures in our blog here.