The importance of appropriate Chemical Hazard PPE
When operating in an area where there is a possibility or likelihood of chemical hazard, employees must be provided with appropriate chemical safety Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as standard. They must also know how to wear it correctly and understand its purpose. Once provided with chemical PPE it is the employee’s responsibility to deploy it where chemical hazards are suspected or in evidence.
Chemicals are hazardous at various stages of their life cycle in whatever component form they may appear whether during initial manufacturing stage or once they have been fully manufactured. Chemical exposure can occur in many industries, including health, agriculture, manufacturing or educational and it’s important to be aware of the hazards specific to the industry you and your employees are working in.
One of the keys to chemical safety is to avoid direct exposure in the first instance. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for chemical use is a key piece in the armoury of any health and safety policy when protecting employees from exposure to chemicals.
There are many ways that humans can be harmed by chemicals. For example, by inhalation of vapour, fumes, dusts, direct skin contact and accidental ingestion. Like all hazards, assessing the risk of a potential chemical hazard is the first step safety officers should carry out.
Identifying hazards in the first instance brings you one step closer to dealing with them correctly and ensuring that you and your employees avoid exposure and are safe in the event of an accident. Choosing specialist PPE is part of the risk assessment and management process and to do so, you must ensure you understand industry standards relating to chemical PPE.
Choosing appropriate PPE for the Job.
Choosing the right PPE is a big responsibility as it’s the only thing that lies between the human and the hazard. Therefore, it’s vital that you know the PPE standards so that if there is spillage or exposure workers are duly protected.
PPE choice and implementation must prepare for all eventualities including misuse of chemicals and accidents. There can be no corners cut in this area as ultimately the safety manager will be responsible for any lapses whether accidental or negligent. Hazardous incidents have the potential for loss of manpower through injury, loss of accreditation and ultimately closure by the HSE should catastrophic failure result.
Moreover, immediate risks of some chemicals are not always evident at the immediate time of the incident and may only manifest themselves later on, leaving the organisation open to compensatory claims and litigation.
PPE use must be indicated as mandatory and staff must be trained in its use. Perhaps one of the most important considerations must be wearability. PPE that is difficult to change into, or out of, or extremely uncomfortable to wear will affect the length of time wearers will be able to work in the hazardous environment. Therefore, choice of PPE that is acceptable to users and that fulfils technical expectations will encourage compliance.
Classifications of PPE
The European CE marking means that chemical protective clothing meets certain minimum European standards and one of the 6 CEN PPE classifications. However, different types of PPE can provide varied levels of protection. For example, EN ‘breakthrough’ classes are measured under lab conditions to determine their resistance to permeation over time but this does not necessarily provide a certain indication in practice of their performance.
Theoretical performance can vary greatly from everyday work conditions where there is hazard exposure in varied environments. Each user may be undertaking a variety of activities, using plant and machinery and working to different job practices. Therefore, professional advice should be sought when choosing PPE to classification particularly since CEN and other classifications often fail to take into account ergonomics and do not provide PPE purchasers any indication of how comfortable the equipment is to wear.
PPE – Head to Toe
The first line of defence is the protection of skin. Head, torso, face, eyes and feet are all key areas that require protection. Coveralls provide large area protection and can be worn over clothes or other protective wear. Clean suitable coveralls should be worn and disposed of correctly.
Eyes and Face
Goggles and facemask are required when working with most chemicals depending on the type of work. Some require complete seals and a respirator to prevent inhalation.
Footwear is vital as spillages can come into contact with the feet first. You should consider the environment in which safety footwear should be used as there may also be electrical hazards and you may require non-conductive footwear should live circuits be a hazard. It’s important to remember that leather is porous and can be penetrated by many chemicals such as acids, therefore resistant waterproof safety boots are necessary.
Gloves are probably the most commonly used form of PPE throughout the chemical industry. However, when working with chemicals there are different weights and materials that should be considered when choosing gloves and it’s also worth considering gauntlets that cover the forearm.
It is important to bear in mind that some wearers can experience dermatitis or other allergic reaction when in close contact with certain glove materials, such as powdered latex, so it is important to provide a choice for wearers to ensure that they are not tempted to abandon safety gloves altogether.
Also, it’s important to ensure gloves are worn correctly, particularly if wearing a coverall ensuring that wrist areas are fully protected and gloves are pulled taut over the protective layers. It shouldn’t go without saying that PPE for chemical use is only as good as the way it is worn so it’s important that staff are aware of the type of PPE they should wear and when they should wear it.
This was a guest post by UK Safety Store. A Midlands based Safety Sign and Safety Equipment company selling direct to customers in the United Kingdom. Their mission is to provide high quality safety products at competitive prices.