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Proper Personal Protective Equipment

Proper Personal Protective Equipment


Robert M. Rioux & William A Elliott, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

Hazards are many and varied in the laboratory, but the right choice of PPE can make the laboratory a safe place to work.


The purpose of PPE is to protect individuals from hazards during a specific task. PPE should be selected following a hazard assessment of the specific task. When around hazardous chemicals or equipment (even if you are not using them), a minimum level of PPE should be applied. PPE minimizes the chance of harm to the individual from the hazard but does not alter the nature of the hazard itself. A combination of PPE, engineering controls, and administrative controls should be used to ensure a safe work environment. Using PPE does not obviate the need for administrative and engineering controls.

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1. Minimum PPE

  1. When entering a laboratory, a bare minimum of PPE should be worn. This includes safety glasses (discussed later), long pants, and closed-toe shoes. This provides basic protection from general hazards in the laboratory. Additionally, long hair should be tied back and dangling jewelry should not be worn.

2. Gloves

  1. Your hands are often the body parts closest to hazards in the lab. Gloves are therefore an essential part of proper PPE. However, it may not always be immediately obvious which gloves are suitable for the task being carried out. A hazard assessment of the task can help to determine the correct pair of gloves to wear. The hazard assessment needs to consider the following:
    1. Chemical: The chemical nature of the hazard is very important in choosing the appropriate gloves. Common materials for chemically resistant gloves include butyl rubber, latex, neoprene, nitrile rubber, polyethylene, polyvinyl alcohol, and polyvinyl chloride. Choosing the appropriate material can often be done easily by consulting a chemical compatibility chart (Ansell Occupational Healthcare, 2008). No material is 100% resistant to a chemical. A chemical will permeate all materials, just at different rates. When consulting a glove chemical compatibility chart, the breakthrough time should be noted. This is the time it takes for a chemical to fully travel through an initially unused glove. Gloves should be changed accordingly when working for periods greater than the breakthrough time. If a glove rips or is punctured, the glove should be removed and replaced immediately. Holes in the glove allow for direct penetration of chemicals through the glove, causing the glove to be ineffective.
    2. Physical: Physical hazards can include cryogenic or elevated temperatures, sharps, and mechanical forces.
    3. Cryogenic temperatures: For cryogenic temperatures, cryogenic gloves are appropriate. Cryogenic gloves range from wrist to shoulder length and are often made of a nylon outer surface and polyester inner surface. The length should be chosen based on further assessments of the task. Handling liquid nitrogen is a common route of exposure to cryogenic temperatures.
    4. Elevated temperatures: For elevated temperatures, heat resistant gloves are appropriate. Heat resistant gloves come in varying shapes, sizes, and materials. Basic heat resistant gloves are often made from cotton, while more advanced heat resistant gloves are made from materials such as nitrile rubber and Kevlar. When choosing heat resistant gloves, ensure the temperature you are working with is within the operating range of the gloves.
    5. Sharps: When handling needles, razors, blades, or any other type of item that could cut or puncture the skin, cut and puncture resistant gloves should be used. Common materials include Kevlar and leather. Cut and puncture resistant gloves often feature inserted plates.
    6. Mechanical forces: Impact resistant gloves should be worn for protection against mechanical forces. Impact resistant gloves are made with added padding, such as foam or gel layers.
    7. Radiation: When handling with or working near radioactive material, radiation attenuation gloves are appropriate. Leaded rubber gloves are effective at shielding hands from radiation (better with increasing thickness), but are heavy and difficult to work with. Common alternatives to lead include titanium, bismuth, and tungsten. While not as effective at shielding radiation as lead, the alternative materials do not have to be disposed of as hazardous waste like is required of lead.

3. Face protection

  1. Face protection is designed to protect the eyes and lungs from chemical splashes, chemical vapors, airborne powders, flying particles, intense light radiation, heat, and harmful gases. There are various types of protective face-wear that are available to prevent damage to the eyes and lungs, including glasses, goggles, face shields, respirators, and gas masks. Choosing the appropriate face-wear should done based on the types of hazards associated with the task at hand. Safety glasses are part of the minimum PPE required to enter a lab space. The safety glasses that are required should adhere to ANSI Standard Z87.1. They should have side shields, be impact resistant, provide protection against flying particles, and provide basic protection against chemical splashes.

Table 1 below presents appropriate choices of protective face-wear for a given hazard. Depending on the severity of the hazard, varying levels of protection can be chosen.

Hazard Method Source Protection
Chemical Splash Liquids, acids/bases, solutions Glasses, goggles, face shield
Vapor/gas Volatile solvents/solids, gases Goggles, full face gas respirator
Dust Airborne particles Fine powders, nanoparticles, sanding, sawing Goggles, goggles with particulate respirator, full face particulate respirator
Impact Flying particles, fragments, objects Sawing, nail guns Glasses, goggles, face shield
Light radiation UV, IR, visible radiation Torch welding, arc welding, torch soldering Welding goggles, welding face shield of appropriate shade
UV, IR radiation Glasses
Glare Tinted glasses
Heat Flying particles, fragments, sparks Grinding, hot working Glasses, goggles, face shield
Splash Molten metal, salts, hot solvents Goggles, face shield
Exposure Flames, hot objects Glasses, goggles, face shield
Biological Airborne particles Biological sample Glasses, goggles, face shield, goggles with particulate respirator, full face particulate respirator

Table 1: Appropriate selection of eye protection for a given type of hazard.

  1. Common eye glasses are not appropriate face protection when in the laboratory. Eye glasses provided very limited protection from splashes and are not normally impact resistant. Prescription safety glasses can be obtained or protective face-wear can be worn over eyeglasses.

4. Body

  1. Lab coats and aprons are worn to protect your body from hazards in the lab. Lab coats should be made from flame retardant material, buttoned up, and well-fitted. Lab coats that are unbuttoned or too loose risk getting caught on things in the lab. When further protection is required, a rubber apron is worn. Rubber aprons will not absorb splashes and provide better protection against heat.

5. Hearing

  1. Ear protection is necessary when exposed to loud noises or continuous noise for long periods of time. Depending on the noise level, ear plugs or earmuffs should be worn.

There are many hazards in the laboratory, but the right choice of personal protective equipment can make it a safer place to work.

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, helps protect people from hazards. It includes proper lab attire, as well as items like gloves, safety glasses, face shields, and lab coats.

Which PPE you wear depends on the specific hazard present. Additionally, specialized equipment is necessary for situations like extreme cold, extreme heat, and radioactivity.

In this video, we will show you how to dress for the lab, as well as some specialized PPE.

When entering a laboratory, wear the minimum PPE. This includes a long sleeved shirt, long pants and closed-toed shoes. Wear a flame retardant lab coat, which fits well and is buttoned up, as loose coats risk getting caught on objects. If you need further protection from splashes or heat, wear a rubber apron.

Always wear safety glasses in the lab. These should have side shields, be impact resistant, and provide protection against flying particles and chemical splashes. Prescription eyeglasses do not provide these protections, thus protective glasses should also be worn.

Lastly, to prevent catching yourself on an object, take off any dangling jewelry, like earrings, and tie back long hair.

Gloves are an essential part of PPE, as hands are often the closest body part to hazards. There are many types of chemical resistant gloves, including latex, nitrile, neoprene, polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride. The type of glove you wear depends on the substances you will be working with.

To decide what glove to wear, consult a chemical compatibility chart. The chart provides information about the glove's resistance to various chemicals. Furthermore, it lists the breakthrough time, which is the time needed for a chemical to permeate the glove.

Different physical hazards require different types of gloves. Cryogenic gloves are longer than regular gloves, and are made of a nylon outer layer and polyester inner layer. Use these gloves when handling extremely cold materials like liquid nitrogen.

Basic heat resistant gloves are made from cotton, while more advanced ones are made from nitrile rubber or Kevlar. When using these gloves, make sure that the temperature is within the operating range of the gloves.

Cut and puncture resistant gloves can be made of Kevlar or leather, and may have inserted plates. Use these gloves when handling objects like needles.

When working with high mechanical forces, use impact-resistant gloves. These have additional padding, like foam or gel layers.

Lastly, radiation requires special attenuation gloves. Leaded rubber gloves provide the most protection, but are difficult to work with and must be disposed of in hazardous waste. Gloves lined with other metals like tungsten are easier to work in, but they do not provide as much protection.

Safety glasses provide enough protection for many tasks, but sometimes more substantial face protection is needed. If you are working with substances that give off fine airborne particles, use a respirator to protect your lungs.

When working with dangerous chemicals that may splash, materials causing flying sparks, or heat, use goggles or a full face shield. For ultraviolet, infrared, or intense visible radiation, use shaded glasses or a shaded face shield.

Additionally, you must use ear protection when exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels. Both ear plugs and earmuffs will reduce the noise level by 15 to 30 decibels. Use both simultaneously if the noise is in excess of 105 decibels.

Finally, PPE does not always provide sufficient hazard protection, and engineering controls like fume hoods also reduce risks.

You've just watched JoVE's introduction to personal protective equipment. You should now understand basic lab wear, gloves, and face protection. Thanks for watching!

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  1. Ansell Occupational Healthcare. 2008. Chemical Resistance Guide: Permeation and Degradation Data, 8th edition.
  2. Standard. 2015. "American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices"



Personal Protective Equipment PPE Lab Attire Gloves Safety Glasses Face Shields Lab Coats Specialized Equipment Flame Retardant Lab Coat Rubber Apron Safety Glasses With Side Shields Impact Resistant Glasses Chemical Resistant Gloves

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