The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines chemical protective clothing as all clothing elements designed to protect workers from extreme chemical hazards. The two main functions of a chemical protective suit are:
- Protecting the wearer from getting contamination from what they are handling
- Preventing the worker from getting into contact with hazardous chemicals
The right chemical protective suit should allow the wearer to perform their duties unencumbered. With so many options in the market today, choosing a chemical protective suit that’s appropriate for your industry could be confusing. In this post, we discuss 3 steps that will guide you towards choosing the right chemical suit.
1. Determine the level of PPE required
The level of protection required depends on the chemicals present in the workplace. Are they corrosives or irritants? Do they pose a biological or percutaneous risk? Could they cause an allergic reaction? Are they skin carcinogens? You will want to determine whether the wearer is predisposed to pressurized sprays and the splash’s direction.
You will need to carry out a comprehensive hazard assessment exercise where you list all the chemicals needed for the task and their reactions. You can do this by reviewing each chemicals’ material safety data sheet. You also need to take note of the potential side effects of inhaling the chemical fumes as well as skin exposure. The hazard assessment exercise should also lay down the first aid treatment for each type of chemical exposure.
You also need to establish whether prolonged use of the chemical protective suit might introduce another hazard. For instance, wearing a fully encapsulated chemical protective chemical suit for long might lead to heat stress.
Depending on the level of protection, you might need to train your workers on the practices and procedures of using your preferred chemical protective suit.
2. Selecting the right chemical protection suit material
With so many industry players, the suit materials have become trade secrets. This makes it difficult for end-users to compare and properly evaluate what they should use. Before you decide on a fabric, you determine its level of chemical resistance through permeation testing.
Permeation refers to the rate at which the chemicals diffuse through the suit fabric. The permeation rates vary depending on the chemicals’ concentration and class. The faster the suit’s permeation rate, the easier it will be for chemicals to diffuse through the fabric.
You will also need to determine the fabric’s breakthrough rate. This refers to the rate at which a chemical completely permeates the material. The breakthrough rate is determined by applying a chemical on the suit and assessing how long it takes to detect it on the inside. Determining this gives you an idea of how long the protective suit should be used before the chemicals completely permeate its fabric.
The last factor you need to consider when selecting the suit’s fabric is its degradation or deterioration rate. Depending on the fabric, the suit might get soft, stiff, brittle, or even swell. In the worst-case scenario, it may dissolve once exposed to certain chemicals. Most manufacturers will provide you with the chemical resistance data once you purchase.
3. Choosing the correct design
Again, this depends on the chemicals you are using and the hazards present. Chemical protective suit designs can either offer full or partial body protection. The fully enclosed design offers protection against pervasive splashing, vapors, and gases. This design does not allow heat or perspiration to escape. This predisposes the wearer to heat stress. Therefore, you will need a cooling system if you will be working in a full bodysuit. This design is suitable for extremely hazardous applications. Non-encapsulated or partial bodysuits do not protect the face and neck. This means they are unsuitable in pervasive splashing and gas-tight applications.
In the end, your choice boils down to the type of job you want to be done, and the hazards your workers will be exposed to. The above steps should help you quickly make an informed decision. Once you purchase your chemical protective suit, be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions on how you should maintain it and how often you should have it inspected. This ensures it lives up to its intended lifespan while functioning optimally.