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Safety Dialogue

5 Things to Know about Chemical Suits

By October 10, 2020No Comments

May 22, 2019

Protective chemical suits are required in many service and manufacturing industries where employees are exposed to hazardous materials. Chemical suits can make a real difference in protecting workers from hazardous particles, dust, aerosols, and liquids In the agricultural sector when pesticides are sprayed, during structural renovations where mold or asbestos is present, during the manufacture of light bulbs, electronics, and many other consumer products, and of course in chemical facilities, hospitals,  pharmaceuticals manufacturing, and especially in the petrochemical’s industry.

It can be difficult to choose the best chemical suit for the job. Over-protection means paying more than what’s necessary to protect workers, and under-protection can leave an employee with an unexpected injury and your business with a possible liability claim. Additionally, you will want to choose a chemical suit that doesn’t leave workers exposed to heat stress, or the inability to perform tasks with efficiency.

1. Know the Level of Chemical Exposure

It is important to first know what type of chemicals the workers may be exposed to along with the levels of concentration to determine the type of chemical suit required. Some chemical have just one hazard, such as being a suspected carcinogen. But, more often the workplace chemicals will pose multiple hazards including skin or mucous membrane irritation, sensitization (as with an allergic reaction), or physical hazard such as skin burns, or being flammable or corrosive.  OSHA outlines the 4 levels of personal protection equipment or PPE that can be used to determine which type of chemical suits are needed to fit the exposures risks.

  • Level A protection. This is when a high level of respiratory, skin, eye and mucous membrane protection is needed. A fully-encapsulated chemical suit and a positive pressure or self-contained breathing apparatus is used to fully protect the worker from a high level of hazardous chemical exposure.
  • Level B protection when respiratory hazards are certain but less skin and eye protection is needed. Chemical resistant clothing is needed at this the level of protection when the amount or type of chemicals are unknown, as Level B will provide sufficient protection for the time required to determine the true hazard levels.
  • Level C protection includes chemical resistant coveralls or a chemical suit when the type and concentration levels of the chemical hazard are known. A full or half mask along with appropriate chemical resistant gloves to fit the situation is required.
  • Level D is the lowest level when nuisance contaminants are in the environment, but there is no skin or breathing hazards. A work uniform or coveralls to keep dust, dirt, grease or oils off workers is one example.

OSHA has established these guidelines in conjunction with data for Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL) to protect workers against the health effects of exposure to hazardous substances. When purchasing chemical suits, many manufacturers will label them with the OSHA Hazmat designated Level A through Level D of protection that the suit will provide.

2. Chemical Suit Type Classifications

Another way to determine if the chemical suit will meet your employee’s level of exposure is to consider the CE marking or chemical suit type classification as marked on the PPE label. The six classes (1-6) starts with a basic level Type 6 protective garment which is used in Level D circumstances that present nuisance dust and dirt. Chemical resistant coveralls are a Type 6 garment that can be pair with gloves and safety shoes to keep the worker safe.

A fully encapsulated chemical suit for Level A hazards would be classified as a Type 1 chemical suit. The manufacturer should provide a chemical resistance list and a list of the tests passed for the design and style of the suit in question. By far, the most widely used chemical suits for manufacturing processes and industrial hazardous services are typically a Level 3 or a Level 4 chemical suit.

Both Level 3 and Level 4 chemical suit levels protect against liquid chemicals and have either liquid-tight (type 3) or spray-tight (type 4) seams and joints. A Type 3 chemical suit is reusable, and is usually manufactured from layered PVC and fabric substrate materials. It is impervious to liquids and offers good protection against low concentration levels of acids. A Type 4 chemical suit is also reusable and offers very good protection against petroleum, dyes, machine oils, and crude oil. 

3. The Styles of Chemical Suit

The style of chemical suit chosen will also depend on the level of protection needed and the hazards associated with the chemicals in the worker’s environment. While the suit material is crucial to the level of protection the worker needs, the chemical suit style will fulfill the amount of coverage and closure required. Work with a manufacturer that offers several styles of chemical suits with different closure types, ankle and arm cuff styles, and multiple seam selections.

Totally-encapsulating chemical-protective suit -is used for Level A exposure and will provide full body protection. These outfits are generally used with a full face Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), along with inner chemical resistant gloves and safety boots and a two-way radio to maintain communications to protect against solid hazardous substances such as mold and asbestos cleanup.

Hooded chemical-resistant suits are used for Level A or B exposure risks in conjuction with an air respirator or SCBA for respiratory protection. Expect excellent liquid splash protection from hazardous chemicals that workers may come in contact with during Industrial cleanup operations or environmental chemical spills.

One or two-piece chemical-splash suit are and economical choice in chemical suit ensembles that prevent chemical splash contact and are used for Level C protection when all contaminants have been identified.

Chemical Resistant Coveralls provide a basic barrier against light liquid splashes and prevents hazardous dust from contaminating the worker’s clothing. Chemical resistant coveralls are often used in spray painting, auto mechanics, or metal polishing industries.

4. The Difference Between Permeation vs. Penetration

Another way to determine the effectiveness of a chemical suit is to look at the what the suits permeation or penetration tests reveal. When a chemical protective garment has passes the tests for penetration, that means the suit was effective at preventing chemicals from penetrating openings in the suit. If chemicals are found to have penetrated through the suits seams, closures, or fabric – then the suit design is defective.

Permeation tests will evaluate whether chemicals can pass through a protective garment without going through design or fabric openings. If a chemical can be absorbed or diffused into the fabric, and is found on the opposite side of the material, it has failed the permeation tests. It is important to know that even when all openings in the chemical suit are providing full protection from liquid passage, some strong chemicals may be able to permeate through the suit’s material.

For most workplace activities, a PPE that has passed penetration tests are suitable when minimal contact with the chemicals is expected. In extreme levels of chemical concentrations, a chemical suit that has also passed permeation tests may be required. If a chemical suit is marketed as a breathable fabric to reduce heat stress for employees, they may not be suitable for the severe conditions that require a non-permeable fabric. 

5. What are the Suit’s Test Results

If you need chemical suits to protect against industrial chemicals, caustics, and acids, it is important to know that they were quality manufactured with a strong fabric and seam strength that workers need. Both the strength of the fabric and the seams will determine the level of performance in protecting against liquid chemical splash.

For Level A or Level B protection, make sure the chemical suits meets ISO 6530 test method for resistance of the materials against penetration by liquids. Chemical suits that adhere to ISO 6530 have been tested and determined to have met the standards for penetration, repellency, and absorption for protective clothing materials against liquid chemicals.

When you select a quality manufacturer, these suits usually feature a laminated fabric which offers a broad range of protection against light splash in petro-chemical environments, chemical materials loading operations, and for industrial workers that operate paint booths or chemical mixing equipment. Other ISO 7530/EN 368 tests the chemical suit should have passed include:

  • Tensile, Bursting, and Puncture Tests
  • Penetration Tests against Multiple Agents
  • Anti-static and Flammability Tests
  • Whole Suit Spray Tests

These tests insure the chemical suits will protect against light spray and splashes of liquid chemicals. The NFPA governs protective suits that are needed to protect against directional spray or buildup of liquid on the suit, as is the case when firefighters respond to a chemical factory explosion or DOT chemical spill on the highways.

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