Guest Post By: Impact Products
For industrial employers and workers selecting respiratory protection, there is good news. The National Personal Protective Technologies Laboratory, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tests all respirators used for a variety of situations and if they meet specific performance standards and criteria, certifies them. Once certified, workers wearing using these respirators can rest assured the respirator selected should meet their needs under specific conditions.
However, when it comes to selecting protective clothing, making a product selection is not as easy. For one reason, protective clothing has different meanings for different workers in different professions and situations.
For instance, a police officer on regular duty would likely not need protective clothing that protects her from chemical, biological, or radioactive hazards. Most likely the proper protective clothing for a police officer on day-to-day duty would be a bullet proof vest.
Similarly, a worker in a paint factory, machine shop, or industrial location likely would have little use for a bullet-proof vest and while wearing protective clothing that protects the worker form chemicals or biological hazards may be needed in some industrial settings, it likely is more protection than necessary.
What we do have that can assist in selecting protective clothing are standards developed by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration for all aspects of OSHA projects. Essentially, what these standards do is provide what are called “levels of protection” to correspond with different danger levels in the workplace.
Those four levels of protection are the following:
- A level: The highest level, when there is the greatest potential to exposure to a variety of different hazards to skin, respiratory, and eye protection.
- B level: The focus of B level is not skin protection; this level is the highest degree of respiratory protection.
- C level: Garments at this level offer protection from many types of airborne substances, but to a lesser degree than B level.
- D level: This is the lowest protection level; protective gear at this protection would be designed to protect the wearer from splashes and moderately hazardous levels of chemicals.
While NFPA (The National Fire Protection Association) and ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) have created standards that can help guide in the purchase of protective garments in certain professions and industries, ultimately it is up to the employer and the worker – often with the assistance of an astute distributor – to perform due diligence, selecting protective gear that best meets their needs.
We do this by conducting a hazard assessment. This determines what potential risks and hazards are present for each worker performing specific tasks. The hazard assessment would try to answer the following questions:
- What hazardous substances are of concern; chemicals, liquids, gas, etc.?
- If in contact with the hazard, what is the route of exposure: respiratory, skin, eye?
- What is the nature of the work or task performed by the worker?
- How great is the risk of exposure?
- How changes can be made to minimize the risk of exposure including the amount of time the exposure might exist?
Protective Clothing Selection
With these and likely other questions answered, it is time to start looking at what protective clothing would be most appropriate to select. In general, no matter what clothing is selected, there is no reason to sacrifice comfort.
The fabric should offer breathability, comfort, and make it as easy as possible for the worker to perform their tasks.
Now, using our hazard assessment as our guide, we can select corresponding protective gear as follows:
- Gear that helps the worker stay clean. A custodial worker, for instance, who wants to be protected from grime, dust, grease, or soil, would look for a protective gear that resists outside particles from penetrating the suite, while still allowing moisture, vapors, and air to pass through the fabric.
- Nonhazardous liquids or vapors. Nonhazardous splashes, spills, and mists typically refer to water, oil, some detergents such as cleaning chemicals. Look for protective gear with outer layers constructed of cloth-like materials and abrasion-resistant polypropylene.
- Hazardous liquids or vapors. These suites are constructed so that the fabric needs to resist hazardous liquids and vapors and demonstrate appropriate resistance to chemicals being handled or used by the worker.
- Penetration and permeation. Penetration refers to the flow of liquid through a material, such as through the seams or closures. Permeation refers to a process in which a chemical hazard travels through the protecting clothing material. Based on our hazard assessment, if penetration or permeation are potential hazards, the employer and worker should analyze data provided by the manufacture of these garments to see if the garment addresses the needs of the worker based on the risk. Always look for data that is the result of an independent laboratory doing the testing.
Piercing the Protection
We just referenced penetration as the ability of a hazardous material to essentially “pierce the protection” provided by the protective clothing. Seams should also be a part of the protective clothing selection process. There are four types of seams: sewn; bound; taped; and double taped. An astute distributor should help identify which type of seam will offer the best protection for the worker.
Additionally, pierce the protection by not wearing all the protective gear necessary. For instance, eye gear and face shields are often necessary. The eye gear should be “indirectly vented” or “non-vented.” This type of eye gear with help ensure spills do not enter the eye. Additionally, the face shield should cover the entire face and designed to protect the worker’s face from chemical splashes.
Finally, gloves are a must. Gloves that just cover the hands offer limited protection. It is far more protective to wear long-sleeve gloves that travel up the arm for greater protection. And just like protective clothing, different protective gloves are designed to resist specific concerns, such as acids, solvents, penetration, and abrasions.
Impact Products is a manufacturer and supplier of branded and private label non-chemical commercial cleaning, maintenance, safety and related products. The company’s offering encompasses a full suite of janitorial products including floor care products, waste receptacles, washroom accessories, gloves and safety products, Impacting Everything: Easier, Safer, Better. Markets served by the company include commercial cleaning, industrial services, healthcare, government, schools, office buildings, hospitality and foodservice. Founded in 1963, Impact’s broad customer base is served out of Toledo, Ohio; Riverside, California; and Purvis, Mississippi. Impact Products, LLC is a division of the S.P. Richards Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Genuine Parts Company (NYSE: GPC).