How to Select the Right Chemical Safety Clothing
What are the key factors that Safety Managers need to consider when selecting chemical safety clothing?
European standards for chemical protective clothing have undoubtedly heralded a great leap forward in improving workplace safety. And yet they can be a double edged sword; whilst many applications in the real world demand protection much higher than the minimum, standards for PPE primarily set MINIMUM performance requirements. So just assuming that the use of CE certified products means workers are safe, without understanding the content and detail of a standard and without understanding what it is actually telling you, can be dangerous.
Applications involving any hazard, not least chemicals (and many chemicals have the added complication of not resulting in immediate consequences, so contamination may not be recognised at the time), requires a detailed risk analysis to uncover all the hazard, task and environment related factors, some of which may be addressed by CE standards and others not, that could influence the choice of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Whilst using standards therefor as a guide and starting point, Safety Managers need to look beyond them to ensure all factors are considered and addressed. Furthermore, safety clothing, like all PPE selection, is a compromise between protection, comfort and cost, and such analysis is vital in ensuring the optimum combination is selected. This type of approach may be more time consuming, but brings benefits, not only ensuring workers are adequately protected, but also ensuring they enjoy the best level of comfort possible and that you are not spending more money on PPE than is necessary; an holistic and effective approach to PPE selection can have direct beneficial consequences for the company's bottom line.
This page provides those involved in specifying chemical suits with a guide through the types of factors that might be considered in such an approach.
- What are the challenges of selecting safety personal protective equipment?
- Meeting CE Standards
- Understanding the chemical
- Understanding Permeation Test Breakthrough
- Which tools can help you understand permeation test chemical breakthrough?
- How does understanding different Spray Types help in optimising protection and comfort?
- Task & work areas
- Considering how chemical safety clothing items work together
- Physical and environmental factors
- Using chemical suits with flame and heat protective clothing
- How can you keep your employees safe?
- The importance of donning and doffing safety clothing correctly
- Are you reading chemical safety clothing instructions correctly?
- Balancing safety with comfort
What are the challenges of selecting safety personal protective equipment?
When it comes to selecting the right safety clothing for the job, the two key factors to consider are protection and employee comfort. The chosen suit should not only provide the appropriate level of protection but also be as comfortable as possible to wear. Over-specifying – i.e. acquiring chemical suits that exceed the requirements of your applications – will not only result in unnecessary costs, but is also likely to impact employee comfort as PPE providing higher levels of protection is in most cases heavier and more complex (as well as more costly!).
Naturally, this will have a knock-on effect.
In the selection process of safety personal protective equipment, many companies rely largely on European CE Marking. This can provide an initial broad ‘indication’ of a chemical suit’s level of protection against certain chemical hazards – from light aerosol spray through to full gas protection.
However, the pitfall in relying solely on the CE Marking is that standards generally indicate minimum performance levels for PPE – and, therefore, as many applications require more than the minimum to ensure protection, standards should only be considered as a starting point for any evaluation of safety clothing. From the toxicity of a specific chemical to the challenges presented by the task and environment, there are a whole range of factors that need to be considered when selecting safety personal protective equipment. And often these are not necessarily addressed by the CE standards.
Taken as a whole, these factors can influence not only the selection of chemical suits, but also the choice of additional safety clothing such as boots and gloves.
Meeting CE Standards
CE Marking – denoted by the CE symbol (from the French, Conformité Européene) is used across the EU. In fact in the EU the use of PPE that is certified to the relevant product standards is a legal requirement. CE Marking on safety clothing is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product meets and complies with the minimum performance requirements outlined by the relevant European health, safety and environmental product legislation and (in the case of Category III products - see below) confirms that the product has been independently tested, assessed and certified according to the requirements in those standards.
Within the hierarchy of chemical protection garments, there are five CE Types from the minimum protection offered by Type 6 to the maximum of Type 1 (EN 943 previously detailed requirements for gas tight suits Type 1 and 2. However, the latest version of the standard removed Type 2). These types provide an excellent guide to the different levels of chemical protection and help to support safety clothing choice for both liquid and dry particle protection.
Understanding the Chemical
A key consideration in chemical protective safety clothing choice is the toxicity of the chemical against which protection is needed.
Understanding the chemical properties and the volume required to cause harm or damage is essential to understanding the safe use time of safety clothing (i.e. the maximum time that a garment can safely be used to protect against a chemical). The chemical toxicity, the rate of permeation through the fabric and the mass or volume of chemical permeated over time are key factors in selecting an appropriate garment. Knowing and understanding a chemical’s toxicity and rate of permeation will help both in the suit selection process and to determine just how well a workforce is protected, enabling safety managers to manage tasks more effectively and safely.
It is important to understand the nature of “permeation” as opposed to “penetration”.
Permeation occurs at a molecular level when the molecules of the chemical pass between the molecules of the barrier. The rate is dependent on a number of factors such as relative molecule size and shape, polarity and temperature.
It is important to realise that permeation cannot be prevented; it can only be delayed and slowed through the selection of the best combination of polymers in the barrier fabric. Therefore, understanding the rate of permeation, the amount permeated and the toxicity of the chemical (i.e. how much of it will cause harm) is vital in understanding how long a suit can be used safely. The difference between permeation and penetration is explained in the video below.
This understanding is especially important in the case of protection against chemicals that have only long-term effects. In the assessment of chemical protective clothing, as well as considering the route of contamination (i.e. inhalation, absorption through the skin etc) it is useful to classify chemicals according to how long the consequences of contamination take to occur: long-term or immediate.
Chemicals that have only immediate effects such as causing irritation or burns are less problematic because they will often take effect only if relatively larger quantities contact the skin (normally a result of penetration rather than permeation), but also because the wearer will immediately be aware of the contamination (in simple terms, it will hurt!). And, of course, unless contamination is major, irritations and burns will heal.
Chemicals that have only long term effects however, such as many that cause cancers or damage internal organs, present a greater problem in that should small amounts permeate through the fabric and contact the wearers’ skin he or she will probably remain unaware of it. In some cases, depending on the chemical, it may only take a small amount to cause harm. Yet even if larger amounts are required to cause harm, if the task undertaken is regularly repeated, the problem may remain undetected, with a cumulative effect developing, and only emerge months or even years later when health problems, which can be devastating, develop... at which point it is too late.
Understanding Permeation Test Breakthrough
What is the Permeation Test?
The permeation test breakthrough is essentially when the permeation of a chemical reaches a particular rate or speed – not, as widely assumed, when a chemical first breaks through a fabric.
Thus, a permeation test giving a breakthrough of >480 minutes does not mean that no chemical has broken through the fabric or that the wearer is safe for that time. It is only an indication of when the permeation taking place reaches a particular rate or speed. In fact, chemical permeation has already been occurring at the time of the reported test ‘breakthrough’.
(It is worth noting that the US version of the same permeation test records Normalised Breakthrough at a permeation rate of 0.1µg/min/cm2, a rate ten times lower than the European Normalised Breakthrough. So why the difference? The reason is that the specific rate chosen is irrelevant because its purpose is to allow a COMPARISON of the permeation resistance of different fabrics, so what the specific rate used is, provided it is the same for every test, is not important (it could be 0.1µg, 0.5µg or 5.0µg) but by using a consistent time to a rate of permeation a more accurate representation of permeation resistance for comparative purposes is obtained. This fact of different rates used in different regions (purely for historical reasons) is in itself is proof that the normalised breakthrough is NOT intended as an indication of safe-wear time and should not be used as such)
The result of this misunderstanding is that users may conclude from wrongly interpreted permeation test data that no chemical is permeating through the fabric if contaminated – but in fact, users may be coming into regular contact with small amounts of the chemical. For chemicals with high toxicity, such as benzene (which has various long-term effects, including being carcinogenic) exposure might not be immediately apparent, yet long-term exposure could be catastrophic to the wearer, who remains completely unaware of the fact they have been exposed. This is an essential consideration for workers operating with chemicals that show no immediate visible harm but can have long-term effects.
It is important to note that the permeation test breakthrough is primarily designed for fabric comparison only; to understand whether or not one fabric is a better barrier than another, and not as an indication of safe use time. To accurately determine safe use time, measurement of the permeation rate, area exposed and time exposed, along with an understanding of and comparison with the toxicity of the chemical is required.
Using a tool such as PermaSURE provides instant access to this information. PermaSURE is an online tool that calculates permeation rates and volumes permeated over time according to real world parameters (including temperature). With over 4000 chemicals in the database, it compares the results with the known toxicity level of the chemical, thus providing users with an instant access to safe use time for Lakeland chemical suits ChemMax 3, ChemMax 4 Plus and Interceptor Plus. In short, it provides easy access to the safe-use times that permeation test breakthrough does not.
Which tools can help you understand permeation test chemical breakthrough?
The Problem of Temperature
Temperature presents a problem in selection of chemical suits because it influences permeation rate; the higher the temperature, the faster a chemical will pass through a barrier fabric. In broad terms a 10oC rise in temperature may result in a doubling of the permeation rate.
Because permeation testing is designed for comparison of fabric performance, all tests are conducted at 23oC. This means that where workers are in an environment at a temperature higher than this (and bearing in mind core body temperature is 37C) this means any indications of permeation rates from a test may be entirely wrong.
Fortunately, Permasure® incorporates the effect of temperature so calculates permeation rates according to the real world.
To calculate permeation through a fabric polymer, PermaSURE utilises molecular modelling – modelling based on well-established science relating to the molecular structure of both the chemical and the polymers in the chemical suit fabric. If both elements are known – the chemicals' molecular structure and the polymer structure – permeation rate can be modelled accurately.
Remember, permeation test breakthrough data alone does not help to determine safe use times of a chemical suit. By leveraging the forensic accuracy of Permasure®, proper evaluation of permeation rate according to real world parameters combined with comparison with toxicity limits of the chemical, enables assessment of actual safe-wear times, thus allowing safety managers to manage tasks involving hazardous chemicals better and to keep workers safer.
Until recently CE standards made no clear reference to the need to manage chemical suit selection by calculation of volumes permeated and the toxicity of the chemical. However, the most recent 2018 version of EN 14325 (the standard that provides various classification tables for the various different properties of garments – such as various strength properties; penetration and permeation resistance) provides a permeation resistance classification table that redresses this omission.
As well as the current classification according to breakthrough time (time until a speed of permeation is reached), the new standard provides a secondary classification table according to the mass or volume of chemical permeated over time, relating it to three optional chemical toxicity levels (i.e the mass or volume of the chemical that may be required to cause harm):-
· "Very Toxic" chemicals that have a toxicity level of 20µg/cm2
· "Toxic" chemicals that have a toxicity level of 75µg/cm2
· "Other" chemicals that have a toxicity level of 150µg/cm2
The source of these dermal toxicity levels is the EC regulation 1272;2008.
In fact, these toxicity levels and classification in the standard offer the same method of safe-use time assessment as does PermaSURE - the toxicity levels used being the same - and from the same source. The difference is that the CE classification still relies information based on permeation testing - which is not always available and which ignores the effect on permeation of higher temperatures than used in the test. Click here to read more about the new CE permeation resistance classification tables.
How does understanding different Spray Types help in optimising protection, comfort and cost?
The selection of PPE to protect against hazards is always about achieving the best balance between protection and comfort; the benefits to a business of maximising comfort are clear yet protection must always remain the primary driver of PPE selection.
The most common type of clothing for protection against hazardous chemicals are Types 3 and 4 – the protection and garment requirements being defined in product standard EN 14605 (Type 5 and 6 garments are not constructed using barrier fabrics and are not suitable for protection against higher hazard chemicals). Typical garments are coveralls with attached hood constructed using solid barrier polymer films, sealed seams (usually stitched and taped; sometimes ultrasonically welded), and fittings to ensure an effective liquid seal at the front fastening and often between sleeve and gloves and so on.
Yet despite the fact that that two distinct types of protection are identified in the standard, most garments available are BOTH type 3 AND type 4… which begs the question if the garments are the same, why two different protection types? In fact Type 3 represents a higher level of protection than Type 4, so users buying the ubiquitous Type 3 & 4 garments, are paying for more protection than they need. And estimates suggest that perhaps 80% of real world applications are Type 4 rather than Type 3.
What is the difference between Type 3 and Type 4?
These types indicate two different forms of liquid chemical spray:-
- Type 3 A strong, pressurised jet spray from a single spray point.
- Type 4 A lighter, “shower” type spray .
The best way to understand the difference in order to transfer it to your real world application is to understand and see the related “finished garment Type Tests”. These involve a test subject entering a cabin and being subjected to different liquid sprays depending on the Type being tested, using a liquid which is died blue and has a reduced surface tension to increase the likelihood of penetration through any holes. Three suits are tested with an assessment of any penetration made after the test with a pass or fail result. However, it is important to realise that a pass does NOT mean NO penetration has occurred. Some allowance for minimal penetration is made, and this might be important in the case of highly hazardous chemicals.
It is also important to understand that these tests are assessing whether a liquid will PENETRATE through any holes or gaps in the fabric construction or the construction of the garment (seams, zip etc), thus dealing with larger amounts of liquid. It is not measuring PERMEATION of a liquid through the fabric which deals with very tiny molecular-level amounts and is assessed using the permeation test on the fabric as described above.
The two videos below have been taken at the spray test facility at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Scotland especially to show the difference between the two types.
Type 4 Spray Test
Type 3 Jet Test
The videos show clearly that Type 3 is a more demanding level of protection involving strong, pressurised sprays potentially forcing open zip covers or bursting weak seams, whereas Type 4, whilst still involving a considerable volume of liquid (4.5Lt in one minute), soaks the garment but inflicts no pressure on it.
How does this help in garment selection?
Users that can confirm their application is Type 4 and not Type 3 have more options for chemical suits that are better targeted at the protection they require, whilst also being more comfortable, more flexible and possibly less expensive. Such options can include:-
Less complex garments
Garments that feature simpler design front fastenings (as they do not have to resist strong jets of liquid), such as the ChemMax 1EB coverall.
Two or Three Piece Ensembles
Instead of a single piece coverall a jacket with hood and pants or jacket with collar, separate cape hood and pants might be used. This can be more flexible and more comfortable and can reduce overall costs if fewer garments are used.
Lakeland’s Cool Suit designs feature a breathable panel to the rear with the critical areas of the garment (front, limbs, hood etc) constructed of the protective fabric. The breathable panel is covered by a flap sealed at top and side and open at the bottom to allow circulation of air in and out of the suit, assisted by the "Bellows Effect".
These options show that clearly identifying the type of spray that applies in your application and especially defining the difference between Type 3 and 4, might mean you can provide workers with more flexible and comfortable options.
Task and Work Areas
The operational environment and its day-to-day rigours, such as crawling, climbing ladders, working in confined spaces, working in noisy or dark areas and so on, has consequences for the effectiveness and durability of safety clothing. Thus awareness of such influences in the task and its environment – always bearing in mind the hazard presented by the chemical and the possible issue of the long-term effects of contamination – is fundamental in both selection of the right safety clothing and in the management of its use – such as how long it can be safely worn and when it should be discarded and replaced.
Thus, for example, in terms of the operational environment, a worker operating in a confined space may have different working challenges to another working in an open area. Stresses relating to the task may include climbing ladders, which will create particular stresses on the crotch of a garment (always its weakest point), whilst crawling will result in great stress on the knees which, depending on the type of surface can be a source of both a risk of tearing the fabric (and therefor a risk of contamination) and of discomfort for the wearer. So the task can present a variety of particular stresses and strains on a garments' fabric and construction as well as on the operator. Below are a few examples which might need to be considered (although bear in mind this list is not exhaustive – a robust risk analysis is always required to identify all the factors which a particular task and environment presents).
Abrasion, puncture and tearing are the typical risks associated with working in a confined space, making it important to consider a higher strength fabric.
Crawling or kneeling
If crawling or kneeling is routine, should the safety clothing include knee pads or would a tougher fabric be a better option, even if the chemical hazard is relatively low and fabric with a lower permeation resistance would usually suffice? It’s important to weigh up these considerations in the chemical suit selection process.
A suit used by a worker who routinely climbs ladders places particular stress on a garment – stronger seam construction at the crotch, a more ergonomic garment design or a garment with a crotch gusset might be required.
The clothing design can also be important; traditional "batwing" style garments tend to feature a longer body length and lower crotch to allow for the greater "pulling upwards" and pulling back of sleeves (this is the real reason such styles often feature thumb loops). The result can be a restriction of movement and greater stress, especially on the crotch, during such activities as climbing or reaching. A more ergonomically styled garment such as Lakeland's "Super-B" style with its "inset sleeves" can reduce this effect and result in the garment being more comfortable and lasting longer.
Is mobility an issue? If the worker needs to respond fast – such as to evacuate an area – it is essential that a suit does not hamper mobility. A fabric that combines strength and lightness, plus an ergonomic design to enable good freedom of movement, could be valuable.
How can physical properties of garments be assessed and compared?
In order to assess or compare the physical properties of garments users can refer to the various tests conducted on fabric and construction as part of the certification process. A glossary of the tests is shown in the table.
Results of each test are classified (according to classification tables in EN 14325). Classes are from 1 to 6 with 6 being the highest and the classes are required to be quoted in garment user instructions. Whilst this has limited use in terms of understanding whether a specific suit is correct for a particular application (unless it is possible to know that a particular application requires a specific class in, for example, abrasion resistance – which would be very difficult to determine), it does allow effective comparison of different garments and how they perform in terms of strength and physical properties so the information can be used to indicate which suits might be most suited to their particular application.
Heat can also dramatically affect the garment choice – not only because of its effect on worker comfort but also because the rate of permeation, the speed at which a chemical will permeate through the garment material, changes with temperature and the EN 6529 test standard that defines the permeation test requires all tests are conducted with fabric preconditioned at 23°C .
Whilst maintaining a consistent temperature for all tests enables comparison of permeation resistance performance (which is the real purpose of the test - it was never intended to indicate a safe-use time), a higher temperature of fabric or chemical may result in faster chemical breakthrough than indicated by a test. So if work is conducted in a temperature higher than the test temperature, any conclusions about safe-wear time drawn from test results may be wrong. As a general rule of thumb, an increase in temperature of 10°C may result in a doubling of the permeation rate, so for a worker in an environment at 33°C , the safe-wear time may be half of that indicated. Safety managers' must take this into account when using test information to determine safe wear times for chemical suits.
The Permasure® app calculates safe-wear times, incorporating the effect of temperature on permeation rate.
Considering how chemical safety clothing items work together
Other additional protective safety clothing – such as boots and gloves – must also be evaluated in conjunction with selected suits. How well do these items perform together? Are there any issues with connection between them? Is there any risk of impairment of functionality? Fundamentally, these assessments will allow safety managers to understand if the whole ensemble – suit, gloves, boots, hood and so on – actually delivers consistent, full-body protection. Ensuring that the seal between gloves and sleeves is liquid tight, for example, is incredibly important, as well as the ease with which an individual can don (and doff) all of the equipment
For example, where chemical suits are required in most cases users also require chemical gloves and boots and a suitable face mask. Users commonly try to seal connections between garment and other components using an adhesive tape. But how do you know a sufficient seal is created? It is worth investigating whether there are better methods of creating seals between components such as a push-lock glove connection.
Similarly, considering how well the hood of a garment works with a face mask is important. Does it fit the rim well? Does it restrict movement of the head? Does it need sealing with additional tape? At the same time however, if the complete ensemble is too unwieldy, bulky or uncomfortable, productivity and morale will be affected. Is there a more ergonomic design that can deliver the same protection without compromising performance and comfort? Taking into account both performance and comfort is essential to making the right safety clothing decision.
Physical and Environmental Factors
As well as factors specifically relating to the task, many factors in the environment where the task takes place should be taken into consideration when assessing safety clothing. From noise to visibility and temperature, environmental factors may have an important influence on the final decision.
Communication can be vital within hazardous environments; noisy fabrics could compromise the wearer’s ability to hear colleagues. Consider assessing the noise generated internally by a garment when moving around; a fabric with a lower noise level may be important if regular communication is required.
· Fabric colour
A number of hazardous environments are also low-light areas whilst many chemical suits use dark coloured fabric. Consider a more brightly coloured fabric or high-visibility strips to ensure workers can be seen.
- Moving vehicle hazards must be taken into account
When wearing a suit of fabric that generates noise a worker may not hear operating machinery or moving vehicles approaching. Combining a low noise fabric to improve a worker’s ability to hear with suits in bright colours and high-visibility strips are simple steps that can help reduce the risk of accidents.
- Environments with sharp edges
For environments with sharp, jagged or protruding edges, especially where the worker is operating in a confined space, the use of safety clothing constructed of fabric with higher tear or tensile strength would be most appropriate.
- Explosive environments
The presence of flammable dusts or the possibility a chemical might release flammable vapour means an incendiary spark created by a build-up of a static charge could risk creating a flash fire or an explosion. Most chemical suit fabrics use polymer-based synthetic materials so have a tendency to build a static charge. Minimising the risk of an incendiary static spark can be vital in many applications and acquiring safety clothing with fabric approved to the EN 1149-5 anti-static standard is a minimum requirement.
However, bear in mind that in the case of chemical suits conformance to EN 1149 is generall achieved through a topical treatment on the fabric which works by attracting moisture from the atmosphere to create a thin conductive film on the surface, allowing a charge to dissipate and, provided an earthing route is available (such as through the wearers' body, via a suit with attached socks maintaining contact with the ground, or via a specific grounding cable) go to earth harmlessly.
Being a topical treatment it may rub off with wear and can be less effective in very dry atmospheres. And it will not work at all if a grounding route is not available. So in areas with a very high explosive risk, EN 1149-5 may not be enough and additional measures to ensure the protection of workers, and the plant, could be important.
Using chemical suits with flame and heat protective clothing
In many applications - especially in a petrochemical environment - chemical suits are required where flame and heat hazards are a risk. Workers normally wear Thermal Protective Garments (TPG's - certified to EN 11612) and if chemical protection is also required will wear suitable chemical protection over it. In this case standard chemical suits cannot be used as they are based on polymers and the fabric will burn and melt, compromising the thermal protection offered by the TPG.
As a minimum therefor suits must be selected that meet the Index 1 requirements of the flame retardant standard EN 14116. This standard is designed to ensure that a garment fabric and components will not ignite and burn in contact with a flame.
It is important to note however that such Secondary Flame Retardent (FR) garments certified to EN 14116 Index 1 are not designed to offer protection against heat and flame when worn on their own but are principally for liquid and/or dust protection when worn OVER a TPG certified to EN 11612. Standard chemical suits worn over a disposable heat protective clothing will compromise the flame and heat protection offered by the thermal protective garment (TPG) such as Nomex® or Fyrban®, worn underneath. Standard chemical suits will tend to ignite, burn drip molten burning plastic and generally spread a fire as well as increasing the likelihood of the wearer suffering burns.
It is also notable that not all disposable garments certified to EN 14116 are the same; Index 1 is a minimum requirement but is not indicative of how well a combination of TPG and a secondary FR garment will protect against heat and flame. Generally, garments based on standard polymer fabrics with added FR treatments, such as FR SMS coveralls are cheaper but feature poor performance - in many cases performing little differently from their non-FR treated cousins. This is well illustrated by Thermal Mannequin Testing.
Secondary FR garments and Thermal Mannequin Testing
Thermal mannequin testing is an optional test in EN 11612 in which a test garment worn over a "thermal mannequin" is subjected to a simulated flash fire. The mannequin is covered in heat sensors designed to replicated the rate at which skin absorbs heat energy. Connected to a computer, a body map of the results is produced, showing areas of predicted 2nd and 3rd degree burn along with the total predicted body burn. Testing of different garments, including Lakeland's specialist Secondary FR "Pyrolon" coveralls, whilst worn OVER the same TPG - so reflecting the way garments are worn in the real world indicates the true effect of the disposable chemical suits on thermal protection.
The video below shows both a comparison of simple flammability tests and the results of thermal mannequin tests on three different disposable coveralls; An FR treated SMS garment purchased in the market, SafeGard® GP, a non-FR SMS garment to show a comparison with the FR treated SMS and a Lakeland Pyrolon® XT garment made from viscose-based fabric specifically engineered to have FR properties.
A further comparison of predicted body burn of more garments is shown below. The conclusion is that wearing specialist Pyrolon® , which use fabric based on viscose fibres rather than polymer fibres and are engineered to have FR properties can substantially improve thermal protection, whilst the use of FR treated standard polymer-based garments such as FR SMS, whilst being more expensive, actually offer performance that is little different from standard polymer-based disposables.
The effect of temperature on comfort and productivity
In addition to this, temperature management is important to both ensure the worker remains well and that productivity remains high.
In a warm environment, a two-piece suit or cool suit can improve comfort; or a cool vest can keep wearers cooler, raise work rates, extend operating times and thereby improve productivity. If neither option is available (or applicable) consider shorter working periods, more frequent breaks and implementing an effective hydration monitoring policy.
Management of tasks to maximise comfort could also include measures such as, where possible, arranging that they are conducted at a cooler time of day such as first thing in the morning.
How can you keep Your Employees Safe?
Given the complexity of many garments and the unique nature of applications, especially when a worker is using multiple items of safety clothing together (masks, helmets, boots, gloves, safety harnesses etc.), it is important to make sure that safety managers are enforcing safety behaviours within the workforce. After all, a suit will only protect if worn correctly.
The unusual nature of many chemicals means that in terms of the management of safe practices they present a greater challenge than most hazards; in fact in many ways they present a "perfect storm":-
- many chemicals have no immediate effects so if contamination occurs it may not be noticed at the time
- such chemicals often have chronic effects which may only become apparent months or or even years later
- chemicals suits are necessarily made of non-breathable fabrics so are intrinsically uncomfortable to wear
The consequence is that workers may develop an "it'll be OK" attitude, not fully recognising the hazard and its long term effects, being reluctant to wear the required PPE properly and being lax in following proper safety procedures.
Thus in addition to ensuring proper processes in terms of chemical suit selection, training in the hazard, the consequences and the choice and use of suits is vital. Safety mangers should construct and conduct comprehensive training programmes which cover all the fundamental aspects of safety clothing – this should include for example, donning and doffing, best practice for storage and disposal, limitations of use, and how to respond in the case of an emergency.
The unusual combination of no immediate effects with long term, potentially catastrophic consequences of many chemicals is also an important reason why correct assessment of safe-wear times, and not relying on simple chemical test "breakthrough" for an indication of "safe use", as described above, can be critical.
To further cement that knowledge, external training should be commissioned with regular training sessions to ensure knowledge of proper procedure is ingrained into every employee. The manufacturer should also be able to provide detailed insight into the proper use and level of protection that the safety clothing can provide.
Lakeland's five decades of knowledge and experience of chemical protective clothing can be accessed through a variety of training options, including comprehensive study sessions in which delegates learn about key aspects of related CE standards and take part in interactive break-out sessions to develop ways to compare and assess protective clothing.
The importance of donning and doffing safety clothing correctly
Why is correct donning and doffing of safety clothing so important?
In a high-risk situation, such as a disease outbreak or chemical or radiation leak, workers in safety clothing are exposed to a number of dangerous agents, chemicals and hazards.
This is where robust donning and doffing safety clothing procedures are essential; if not lifesaving. But how can safety managers ensure that their donning and doffing procedures are up to scratch?
With the above considered, it’s vital that a written donning and doffing process is visible and available to all operators and that a proper training regime is implemented to help embed best practice principles. Manufacturers can also help by providing advice on donning and doffing effectively, as well as ongoing training programmes for both experienced and new recruits alike.
Doffing especially is an area where mistakes are commonly made – perhaps because having exited the critical area and being away from the danger, wearers might relax and pay less attention to procedure. If the hazard has contaminated the outside of the garment however, removal of the PPE can be a critical process: removal of gloves first and then using bare hands to remove a coverall results in a major risk of contamination of the hands. So it is vital an appropriate doffing process and training, along with an understanding of why this is important, is in place.
Are you reading chemical safety clothing instructions correctly?
The safety clothing instructions provided with every piece of PPE should be read carefully by users. Often these instructions highlight important points relating to the use of the garment and its limitations – information that could prove critical and perhaps even lifesaving.
For example, garments may appear to meet certain standards , yet close review of the user instructions can indicate it only meets those standard under certain conditions or that it meets those standards with the exception of one or more specific requirements. An indication of this will usually be displayed as a warning triangle on the relevant pictogram. Safety managers should, therefore, ensure that both they and wearers of the garments are fully aware of correct usage, protection levels and limitations. Knowing this information will also help in selecting the right chemical suit for the job. Finally, safety managers should stay up to date with new developments in chemical protection and CE standards (which are constantly under review with the aim of improvement). As standards often change in response to events, the fact is that they are never perfect or ‘set in stone’ - safety managers must always bear this in mind when selecting safety clothing.
Balancing Safety with Comfort
Balancing safety with productivity, comfort and cost, can be challenging. There are many possible factors to take into account to ensure that your workforce is appropriately protected for the task required.
This is not a case of simple questions with easy yes or no answers. Rather it is a judgement; a judgment which should take into account various influencing factors – factors which might sometimes be contradictory and which are often not addressed at all be related CE standards. As with all safety clothing, there is often a compromise which needs to be made.
Such a conflict might be addressed not only by the appropriate selection of safety clothing, but by management of the task and environment; perhaps by reducing work periods, working at cooler times of day, including more regular rest periods and frequent re-hydration and by the provision of suitable and comprehensive training for those involved.
The challenge is to ensure that any compromise made follows a robust risk assessment that considers all the unique task and environment factors that might be important and yet also comes down on the right side of protection. More important than anything else is to ensure that workers are properly protected; and a vital component of this, especially given the unique long-term consequence nature of many chemicals is fully understanding the toxicity hazard presented by the chemical itself – especially where the chemical in question has only long-term health effects and may not be noticed at all in the short-term.
Discover more about how to select the right chemical suit for the job by downloading our guide.