Improving chemical safety at the workplace with PPE

Jan 24, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

 This blog looks at the different types of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available to protect workers while using hazardous chemicals. And to help you introduce the best possible PPE for your workers and the chemical hazards at your worksite, we’ll be looking at 3 essential considerations to include in your risk assessment.

REMEMBER: No single combination of PPE is capable of completely protecting people from physical contact with all types of chemicals. Always check the properties of chemical resistant clothing and consider how much of a substance will be used and the duration of the exposure.

PPE as a chemical safety control measure

PPE can greatly reduce the possibility of people being injured or becoming ill at work, but we have to emphasise that pshould never be used as the sole means of controlling a chemical hazard. As a safety control measure, PPE is the least preferred option in the Hierarchy of Control Measures. This is because PPE only works when it is used properly and it’s effectiveness relies almost exclusively on human behaviour. PPE won’t work when:

  • PPE doesn’t fit a worker properly (worker loses their PPE and wears their co-worker’s equipment.)

  • Workers doesn’t use it at all (it’s bulky and uncomfortable, it gets lost or damaged)

  • Workers use it incorrectly (workers take off their PPE too soon because they mistakenly think the area is safe)

  • PPE is unsuitable for the required job task (PPE was selected based on the SDS and no risk assessment was conducted)

PPE will only be effective when workers and contractors are thoroughly trained and are properly supervised.

IMPORTANT: Make sure you provide enough supervision (or spot checks) even after the job task is finished. You want to make sure that workers are cleaning and storing their PPE correctly.

Types of Personal Protective Equipment for hazardous chemicals

PPE should be carefully selected after a risk assessment is carried out on the chemical hazards while following the recommendations in the Safety Data Sheets (SDS). PPE used for protection against chemical hazards includes:

Complete coverage PPE

PPE designed to completely separate the human body from hazardous chemicals and provides protection for the skin, eye and mucous membrane, as well as the respiratory system.

  • Air-supplied respiratory equipment including SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus)

  • Fully encapsulated chemical protection suits

  • Chemical resistant inner and outer gloves

  • Chemical resistant steel capped boots with shank (worn over or under chemical suit, depending on design)

Chemical resistant clothing

Chemical resistant clothing and devices that protect the skin, face, eyes, and body from chemical splashes and spills.

  • Respiratory devices

  • Eye guards, glasses, goggles, visas, and other face shields

  • Coveralls, long-sleeved jackets

  • Hooded two-piece chemical splash suits

  • Disposable coveralls, hoods, and aprons

  • Gloves, gauntlets and sleeving

  • Boots

Basic coverage PPE

For hygiene purposes and protection against minor irritations and infection. This type of PPE is not suitable protection for skin or respiratory hazards.

  • Protective coveralls

  • Plastic aprons

  • Regular safety boots

  • Cotton gloves

  • Cloth or mesh face masks

IMPORTANT: When choosing chemical resistant clothing and equipment always check the specifications to make sure the PPE is suitable for the chemicals you are using eg, some chemical resistant gloves are incompatible with solvents.

Selecting PPE for your workers

A chemical’s Safety Data Sheet will have a list of recommended PPE, but you should always carry out your own risk assessment to decide on the most suitable equipment and clothing to protect your workers. To make your decision there are three essential factors to consider: the chemical being used; the task being performed; and the people working with the chemicals. We’ll look at all three below.

1. Chemical being used

Your first priority is to consider the chemical, it’s form (liquid, solid, gas) and hazard class. Read the SDS closely to determine:

  • How can the chemical enter the body  (inhaled, absorbed by the skin, ingested)

  • Each hazard class and statement (highly toxic, corrosive, carcinogenic)

  • The chemicals toxicity and concentration

  • Acute health effects that could impair a worker and render them unfit to carry out a routine job task (dizziness, fatigue, nausea)

  • Chronic health effects like allergies or cancer that could develop after long term exposure

  • Hazards to specific areas of the body (skin, respiratory system)

  • If the chemical is an asphyxiant and capable of creating an oxygen deficient atmosphere

  • How it affects the eyes and soft tissue

  • Whether the substance has an airborne exposure standard

Each of these factors will help you determine whether workers are likely to need respiratory protection, chemical resistant clothing, or eye guards. You’ll also be determining if other control measures will need to be introduced to the workplace.

2. Job task being performed

After identifying the chemical and assessing the hazardous properties, next you’ll take a close look at the actual job task. You should be considering:

  • How many chemicals hazards will the worker be exposed to?

  • Does the task require more than one item of PPE at the same time? Some PPE can interfere with another piece of equipment eg, goggles and respirators.

  • Is it a simple/quick task, or something complex? Sometimes workers take shortcuts if they are about to perform a 1-2 minute job and it will take them 10 minutes to suit up in an elaborate set of PPE.

  • How long will the worker be exposed to the substance? Some chemicals will penetrate PPE faster than others.

3. Workers exposed to the chemicals

When deciding on the suitability of PPE, it’s critical to also consider the people who’ll actually be wearing it. When PPE doesn’t fit or is uncomfortable to wear, the worker can lose concentration (or worse) not use it at all. Here are some key questions to ask:

  • Does the PPE enable maximum dexterity and clear vision for all job tasks?

  • Will the worker’s size and build interfere with the functionality of the PPE?

  • Is the worker medically fit enough to cope with the extra load imposed by the PPE?

  • Can the worker communicate relatively normally while wearing the PPE?

  • Do they have any personal features or facial hair that could interfere with proper fit of the PPE?

  • Will the worker’s body temperature increase substantially causing them to become psychologically stressed or physically exhausted?

PPE won’t protect your workers when they don’t know how to use it properly (or keep it maintained). You should also take into consideration the level of supervision and training they will receive.

IMPORTANT: A dedicated storage cabinet that keeps PPE safe from dust, liquids, vermin, and theft is also an important factor in workplace safety.

Next Steps

Now you have a better understanding of how to use PPE as a chemical hazard control measure, we suggest downloading our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. You’ll learn how to assess the suitability of your PPE and any additional control measures that may be required. We also introduce our full risk management methodology IDENTIFY - ASSESS - CONTROL - SUSTAIN designed to get your workplace 100% chemical safety compliant. Download it today by clicking on the image below:

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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