Personal protection equipment (PPE) is a classification for various gear that provides protection against environmental hazards. PPE is often worn when traditional garments could be soiled by hazardous materials, but PPE also protects the user against topical or respiratory exposure to hazards. In the workplace, PPE requirements can vary based on the different hazards you may be exposed to, but the chemical processing industry has some special PPE requirements that are unique. Whether you work directly with chemicals or work in an industry where exposure to chemicals is a possibility, below are four important pieces of PPE you need to be aware of:
1. Chemical Splash Gloves
Chemical hazards can splash when disturbed, and while safety measures and safe handling procedures are in place at chemical processing plants to protect workers, the potential for chemical splash incidents is a big concern. Chemical splash gloves are used to mitigate these hazards, and most chemical splash gloves are made out of protective materials like neoprene, nitrile or latex. Some specialty gloves may also be made out of silver shield or ChemTek. Gloves are essential when working with solvents in a manufacturing facility or when handling caustic chemicals.
2. Protective Outerwear
Clothing that repels moisture is also important when working around liquid chemicals. Most PPE outer garments are made from materials that are designed to repel small amounts of liquids, but these materials need to be able to also resist the corrosive effects of chemicals in many cases. The European standard for BS EN 343:2019 is often used to manufacture outerwear that is resistant to moisture, and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the United States also has guidelines for vapor-protective outwear for use in environments where chemical vapors could penetrate standard textile materials like cotton.
3. Eye Protection
Chemical irritants can lead to serious health effects when exposed to the eyes, so many professionals who work in chemical processing are required to wear some form of eye protection as PPE. Goggles must allow the wearer to maintain clear vision while forming a tight seal that blocks both liquids and vapors. The ability to vent goggles is also important to prevent the inhibition of vision. Fog can develop inside a pair of protective goggles due to body heat and condensation, so many goggle manufacturers include a small side vent to allow airflow. In cases where this is not possible or where it may be dangerous to allow an opening in the goggles, a full face mask may be more suitable.
4. Full-Body PPE
In environments where the risk of exposure to chemicals is so great and can affect multiple parts of the body at any given time, full-body PPE is used. These items are designed as full-body coveralls that include pants and long sleeves as well as a hood. The hands and feet are also covered through attached hand and foot coverings. All of this is included in a single piece of PPE, and a respirator and face shield may be worn as well to cover the mouth, nose and eyes. In extreme cases where total coverage is required, a full-body suit may encompass the wearer entirely, much like the design of a space suit.
In the latter example, an oxygen supply may need to be connected to the suit to supply breathable air and prevent the buildup of carbon dioxide inside of the suit. This may be facilitated through a portable oxygen tank when working remotely or through a connected hose system when working in a laboratory setting. This system is what is known as a self-contained breathing apparatus that allows the wearer to operate in hazardous conditions without the risk of exposure to vapors, chemical splashes or hazardous solids that have been treated with chemicals.