How do I choose the right fabric that will protect me from chemicals when purchasing disposable protective clothing?

Q:

How do I choose the right fabric that will protect me from chemicals when purchasing disposable protective clothing?

A:

Before choosing disposable protective clothing, you first need to need to ascertain what the disposable protective clothing will protect the worker from. Assess what the main hazards are and what you need protection from. Do you need protection from sharp objects, hazardous chemicals, radioactive materials, biological materials, or any combination of the above?

Once you have determined what you need the disposable protective clothing to protect you from, it is time to refer to the MSDS for the product or consult with the manufacturer. It is advisable to consult with an Industrial Hygienist or an experienced Health and Safety Professional to determine the requirements of the clothing that is appropriate for your application. There are standards bodies which can give you information to help you make the right decisions. You will want to consult with workers and vendors as well. If you have a respectable and experienced vendor, they may be able to assist you in choosing the right disposable protective clothing. Consulting with workers will give you better insight into hazards and conditions and potentially factors which you may not have considered.

(Learn about 7 Key Disposable Protective Clothing Options to Consider.)

You also need to factor in the work environment including environmental factors like temperature and duration of use or exposure. Some other factors to consider are:

  • Type of puncture or abrasion resistance required
  • Concentrations of chemicals being used
  • Likelihood and amount of potential exposure to the clothing
  • Thickness of the protective clothing needed
  • Amount of chemical the protective clothing will come into contact with
  • The areas of the body which require protection

(Read about 4 Key Types of Protective Clothing to Know and Understand.)

When it comes to chemicals, two things you may want to consider are permeation and penetration. Both can be tested.

Penetration relates to a chemical passing through protective clothing via imperfections and pores in the material, seams, closures, and areas where protective clothing articles meet (e.g. where gloves meet disposable coveralls).

Permeation examines how chemicals move through the material itself, how it spreads and how it soaks through the other side.

How stringently your garments are tested will be determined by the level of exposure expected and the environment. Some disposable protective clothing may be adequate for one application, and not adequate for another. This will be determined through testing and an assessment of potential exposure levels.

Before you conduct your assessment, you may also want to look at procedures and processes. Is it first possible to eliminate the hazard altogether? Can you substitute it for something less harmful? Can you set up a barrier to reduce the potential for exposure? What type of training will you need to reduce the risk? Can you conduct certain activities in areas or at times where the risk of exposure is reduced? Remember, PPE is always the last line of defense.

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Written by Todd Wells
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Todd Wells is a safety professional who works to turn complex projects into successes, implementing effective safety initiatives and consistently achieving measurable positive results on his projects.

Todd is currently a Surface Safety Coordinator with Hatch and understands that world-class safety is about establishing a culture that manages risks and workplace behaviors that cost money.

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