Despite the best efforts of engineering controls devised out of a thorough hazard identification process, worker contact with some chemical types may be unavoidable. In this instance, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of chemical protective clothing is essential.
Every workplace is different and presents its own specific set of risks. Determining the most appropriate chemical protective clothing choice is made difficult by the sheer number of potentially toxic substances and vastly different exposure risks in each application, along with the wealth of available clothing options and construction types. This is exacerbated by the complexity of the standards and testing methods that govern compliance.
Exposure to chemicals results in a range of effects from low level irritation through to serious biological harm. The risks are themselves dependent on multiple factors; properties of the chemical substance, the length of exposure, physical factors like space constraints and the present environmental conditions such as humidity and temperature or exposure to flame.
Before options can be identified, a thorough hazard assessment must be undertaken. Safety managers should have a clear understanding of the following:
- Chemical hazards - the specific substances to which workers may be exposed and any interactions (in the case of multiple substances)
- Physical hazards - including the likelihood of abrasion, tear or puncture to clothing, along with exposure to fire, cold, heat and humidity
- Exposure type - whether the chemical is in liquid/particulate or vapour/gaseous form and whether exposure is brief or extended contact or occasional splash
- Exposure time - how long the worker will be in contact with the substance when undertaking a specific task
- Physical effects - understand the specific potential health effects resulting from exposure
- Determine whether the use of protective clothing will introduce new hazards