Erlenmeyer FlaskChemical Safety

Chapter 5: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The following is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene (National Safety Council, 4th Ed., 1996: p. 546) provides a basic introduction to the topic:

…The use of personal protective equipment should be considered a last resort, when engineering or administrative controls are not possible or when they are not sufficient to achieve acceptable limits of exposure… The primary disadvantage of personal protective devices is that they do not eliminate the hazard from the workplace, and thus their failure results in immediate exposure to the hazard. A protective device may become ineffective without the wearer's knowledge, resulting in serious harm. The integrity and fit of a personal protective device is vital to its effectiveness.

Chapter Overview

  • 5.1 Laboratory Responsibilities for PPE
    • 5.1.1 Hazard Assessment and Equipment Selection
    • 5.1.2 Training for Personal Protective Equipment
  • 5.2 Eye/Face Protection
    • 5.2.1 Selection of Eye/Face Protection
  • 5.3 Hand Protection (Gloves)
    • 5.3.1 Selection of Proper Gloves
    • 5.3.2 Types of Gloves
    • 5.3.3 Double Gloving
  • 5.4 Protective Clothing
  • 5.5 Respirators
  • 5.6 Hearing Protection
  • 5.7 Foot Protection

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: DRS would like to acknowledge Cornell?s Department of Environmental Health and Safety for much of this information and its format.

Revision Date: 07/16/10

5.1 Laboratory Responsibilities for PPE

PPE must be made available to laboratory workers to reduce exposures to hazardous chemicals in the lab. Proper PPE includes items such as gloves, eye protection, lab coats, face shields, aprons, boots, hearing protection, etc. PPE must be readily available and most equipment is provided at no cost to the employee.

The OSHA Personal Protective Equipment standard, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I, includes the following requirements:

  • Hazard assessment and equipment selection
  • Employee training

5.1.1 Hazard Assessment and Equipment Selection

Laboratory personnel need to conduct hazard assessments of the specific operations occurring in their laboratories to determine what PPE is necessary to safely carry out the operation. (See the PPE Selection Worksheet for blank forms.)

When deciding on the appropriate PPE to wear when performing any operations or experiments, a number of factors must be taken into consideration such as:

  • The chemicals being used, including concentration and quantity.
  • The hazards the chemicals pose.
  • The routes of exposure for the chemicals.
  • The material the PPE is constructed of.
  • The permeation and degradation rates specific chemicals will have on the material.
  • The length of time the PPE will be in contact with the chemicals.

Careful consideration should be given to the comfort and fit of PPE to ensure that it will be used by laboratory personnel.

All personal protective clothing and equipment must be maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition. Only those items that meet NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) or ANSI standards should be purchased or accepted for use.

There are a number of safety equipment suppliers who sell a wide variety of personal protective equipment. If you have questions about what PPE is most appropriate for your applications, contact DRS at 333-2755.

Please Note: Principal Investigators, laboratory supervisors, departments and colleges are free to set policies that establish minimum PPE requirements for personnel working in and entering their laboratories.

5.1.2 Training for Personal Protective Equipment

Laboratory personnel must be trained in the selection, proper use, limitations, care, and maintenance of PPE. Training requirements can be met in a variety of ways including videos, group training sessions, and handouts. Periodic retraining should be offered to both the employees and supervisors as appropriate. Examples of topics to be covered during the training include:

  • When PPE must be worn.
  • What PPE is necessary to carry out a procedure or experiment.
  • How to properly put on, take off, adjust, and wear PPE.
  • The proper cleaning, care, maintenance, useful life, limitations, and disposal of the PPE.

As with any training sessions, PPE training must be documented, including a description of the information covered during the training session and a copy of the sign-in sheet. Written records must be kept of the names of the persons trained, the type of training provided, and the dates when training occurred. (See the Laboratory Safety Training – Session Record for blank forms.)

Please note: while DRS can provide information, training, and assistance with training on conducting hazard assessments, and on the selection and use of proper PPE, the ultimate responsibility lies with the Principal Investigator or laboratory supervisor.

It is the responsibility of the Principal Investigator or laboratory supervisor to ensure laboratory staff have received the appropriate training on the selection and use of proper PPE, that proper PPE is available and in good condition, and laboratory personnel use proper PPE when working in laboratories under their supervision.

5.2 Eye/Face Protection

Wearing eye protection is required by OSHA regulation whenever and wherever potential eye hazards exist. Laboratory personnel should use eye protection for many of the chemical and physical hazards found in laboratories including airborne particulates, aerosols, flying particles, molten metal, acids or caustic liquids, chemical liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.

DRS strongly encourages Principal Investigators and laboratory supervisors to make use of eye protection a mandatory requirement for all laboratory personnel, including visitors, working in or entering laboratories under their control.

All laboratory employees and visitors should wear protective eyewear while in laboratories where chemicals are being handled or stored, at all times, even when not working directly with chemicals.

5.2.1 Selection of Eye/Face Protection

All protective eye and face devices must comply with ANSI Z87.1-1989, "American National Standard Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection" and be marked to identify the manufacturer. When choosing proper eye protection, be aware there are a number of different styles of eyewear that serve different functions.

  • Prescription Safety Eyewear
    OSHA regulations require that employees who wears prescription lenses while engaged in operations that involve eye hazards shall wear eye protection that incorporates the prescription in its design, or must wear eye protection that can be worn over the prescription lenses (goggles, face shields, etc.) without disturbing the proper position of the prescription lenses or the protective lenses. Any prescription eyewear purchase must comply with ANSI Z87.1-1989.
  • Safety Glasses
    Safety glasses provide eye protection from moderate impact and particles associated with grinding, sawing, scaling, broken glass, and minor chemical splashes, etc. Side protectors are required when there is a hazard from flying objects. Safety glasses are available in prescription form for those persons needing corrective lenses. Safety glasses do not provide adequate protection for processes that involve heavy chemical use such as stirring, pouring, or mixing. In these instances, splash goggles should be used.
  • Splash Goggles
    Splash goggles provide adequate eye protection from many hazards, including potential chemical splash hazards, use of concentrated corrosive material, and bulk chemical transfer. Goggles are available with clear or tinted lenses, fog proofing, and vented or non-vented frames. Be aware that goggles designed for woodworking are not appropriate for working with chemicals. These types of goggles can be identified by the numerous small holes throughout the facepiece. In the event of a splash, chemicals could enter into the small holes, and result in a chemical exposure to the face. Ensure the goggles you choose are rated for use with chemicals.
  • Welder’s/Chippers’ Goggles
    Welder’s goggles provide protection from sparking, scaling, or splashing metals and harmful light rays. Lenses are impact resistant and are available in graduated lens shades. Chippers'/Grinders' goggles provide protection from flying particles. A dual protective eyecup houses impact resistant clear lenses with individual cover plates.
  • Face Shields
    Face shields provide additional protection to the eyes and face when used in combination with safety glasses or splash goggles. Face shields consist of an adjustable headgear and face shield of tinted or clear lenses or a mesh wire screen. They should be used in operations when the entire face needs protection and should be worn to protect eyes and face from flying particles, metal sparks, and chemical/biological splashes. Face shields with a mesh wire screen are not appropriate for use with chemicals. Face shields must not be used alone and are not a substitute for appropriate eyewear. Face shields should always be worn in conjunction with a primary form of eye protection such as safety glasses or goggles.
  • Welding Shields
    Welding shields are similar in design to face shields but offer additional protection from infrared or radiant light burns, flying sparks, metal splatter, and slag chips encountered during welding, brazing, soldering, resistance welding, bare or shielded electric arc welding, and oxyacetylene welding and cutting operations.

    Equipment fitted with appropriate filter lenses must be used to protect against light radiation. Tinted and shaded lenses are not filter lenses unless they are marked or identified as such.
  • LASER Eye Protection
    A single pair of safety glasses is not available for protection from all LASER outputs. The type of eye protection required is dependent on the spectral frequency or specific wavelength of the laser source. If you have questions on the type of eyewear that should be worn with your specific LASER, contact DRS at 333-2755.

5.3 Hand Protection (Gloves)

Most accidents involving hands and arms can be classified under four main hazard categories: chemicals, abrasions, cuts, and heat/cold. Gloves must be worn whenever significant potential hazards from chemicals, cuts, lacerations, abrasions, punctures, burns, biologicals, or harmful temperature extremes are present. The proper use of hand protection can help protect from potential chemical and physical hazards. Gloves must be worn when using chemicals that are easily absorbed through the skin and/or particularly hazardous substances (such as “select carcinogens”, reproductive toxins, and substances with a high degree of acute toxicity).

Keep in mind there is no one type of glove that offers the best protection against all chemicals or one glove that totally resists degradation and permeation to all chemicals. All gloves must be replaced periodically, depending on the type and concentration of the chemical, performance characteristics of the gloves, conditions and duration of use, hazards present, and the length of time a chemical has been in contact with the glove.

All glove materials are eventually permeated by chemicals; however, they can be used safely for limited time periods if specific use and other characteristics (i.e., thickness, permeation rate, and time) are known. DRS can provide assistance with determining the resistance to chemicals of common glove materials and determining the specific type of glove material that should be worn for use with a particular chemical.

Some general guidelines for glove use include:

  • Wear appropriate gloves when the potential for contact with hazardous materials exists. Laboratory personnel should inspect gloves for holes, cracks, or contamination before each use. Any gloves found to be questionable should be discarded immediately.
  • Gloves should be replaced periodically, depending on the frequency of use and permeability to the substance(s) handled. Reusable Gloves should be rinsed with soap and water and then carefully removed after use. Discard disposable gloves after each use and whenever they become contaminated.
  • Due to potential chemical contamination, which may not always be visible, remember to remove gloves before leaving the laboratory. Do not wear gloves while performing common tasks such as answering the phone, grabbing a door handle, using an elevator, etc.
  • To properly remove disposable gloves, grab the cuff of the left glove with the gloved right hand and remove the left glove. While holding the removed left glove in the palm of the gloved right hand, insert a finger under the cuff of the right glove and gently invert the right glove over the removed left glove and dispose of them properly. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after the gloves have been removed.

5.3.1 Selection of Proper Gloves

Before working with any chemical, always read manufacturer instructions and warnings on chemical container labels and MSDSs. Recommended glove types can sometimes be listed in the section for PPE on MSDSs. If the recommended glove type is not listed on the MSDS, then laboratory personnel should consult with glove manufacturers’ selection charts. These charts typically include commonly used chemicals that have been tested for the manufacturers’ different glove types. Keep in mind that different manufacturers use different formulations so check the glove chart of the specific manufacturer for the glove you plan to use.

If the manufacturers’ glove chart does not list the specific chemical you will be using, then call the manufacturer directly and speak with their technical representatives to determine which glove is best suited for your particular application.

It is important to know that not all chemicals or mixtures have been tested by glove manufacturers. It is especially important in these situations to contact the glove manufacturer directly.

5.3.2 Types of Gloves

As with protective eyewear, there are different types of gloves that serve different functions.

  • Fabric Gloves
    Fabric gloves are made of cotton or fabric blends and are generally used to improve grip when handling slippery objects. They also help insulate hands from mild heat or cold. These gloves are not appropriate for use with chemicals because the fabric can absorb and hold the chemical against a user’s hands, resulting in a chemical exposure.
  • Leather Gloves
    Leather gloves are used to guard against injuries from sparks, scraping against rough surfaces, or cuts from sharp objects like broken glass. They are also used in combination with an insulated liner when working with electricity. These gloves are not appropriate for use with chemicals because the leather can absorb and hold the chemical against a user’s hands, resulting in a chemical exposure.
  • Metal Mesh Gloves
    Metal mesh gloves are used to protect hands from accidental cuts and scratches. They are most commonly used when working with cutting tools, knives, and other sharp instruments.
  • Cryogenic Gloves
    Cryogenic gloves are used to protect hands from extremely cold temperature liquids. These gloves should be used when dispensing or working with liquid nitrogen and other cryogenic liquids.
  • Chemically Resistant Gloves
    Chemically resistant gloves come in a wide variety of materials. The recommendations given below for the specific glove materials are based on incidental contact. Once the chemical makes contact with the gloved hand, the gloves should be removed and replaced as soon as practical. Often a glove specified for incidental contact is not suitable for extended contact, such as when the gloved hand can become covered or immersed in the chemical in use. Before selecting chemical resistant gloves, consult the glove manufacturers' recommendations or their glove selection charts, or contact DRS at 333-2755 for more assistance.

Some general guidelines for different glove materials include:

  • Natural Rubber Latex* - Resistant to ketones, alcohols, caustics, and organic acids. (*See note below.)
  • Neoprene - Resistant to mineral acids, organic acids, caustics, alcohols, and petroleum solvents.
  • Nitrile - Resistant to ketones, alcohols, caustics, and organic acids.
  • Norfoil - Rated for chemicals considered highly toxic and chemicals that are easily absorbed through the skin. These gloves are chemically resistant to a wide range of materials that readily attack other glove materials. These gloves are not recommended for use with Chloroform. Common brand names include: Silver Shield by North Hand Protection, 4H by Safety4, or New Barrier by Ansell Edmont.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) - Resistant to mineral acids, caustics, organic acids, and alcohols.
  • Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) - Resistant to chlorinated solvents, petroleum solvents, and aromatics.

SPECIAL NOTE: Latex Gloves

The use of latex gloves, especially thin, disposable exam gloves, for chemical handling is discouraged because latex offers little protection from commonly used chemicals. Latex gloves can degrade severely in minutes or seconds, when used with common lab and shop chemicals. Latex gloves also can cause an allergic reaction in a percentage of the population due to several proteins found in latex. Symptoms can include nasal, eye, or sinus irritation, hives, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, or unexplained shock. If any of these symptoms become apparent in personnel wearing latex gloves, discontinue using the gloves and seek medical attention immediately.

The use of latex gloves is only appropriate for:

  • Chemicals which have been verified as appropriate for the gloves in question according to glove manufacturer guidance
  • Most biological materials
  • Medical or veterinary applications.
  • Non-hazardous chemicals
  • Applications where “product protection” is the only reason for glove use (e.g., clean room environments)

Staff required to wear latex gloves should receive training on the potential health effects related to latex. Hypoallergenic, non-powdered gloves should be used whenever possible. Nitrile typically offers better chemical protection than latex – but always check with the glove manufacturer to be sure it protects against the chemicals you use.

5.3.3 Double Gloving

A common practice to use with disposable gloves is “double-gloving”. This is accomplished when two pairs of gloves are worn over each other to provide a double layer of protection. If the outer glove becomes contaminated, starts to degrade, or tears open, the inner glove continues to offer protection until the gloves are removed and replaced. The best practice is to check outer gloves frequently, watching for signs of degradation (change of color, change of texture, tears, etc.). At the first sign of degradation or contamination, always remove and dispose of the contaminated disposable gloves immediately and double-glove with a new set of gloves. If the inner glove appears to have any contamination or degradation, remove both pairs of gloves, and double glove with a new pair.

Another approach to double gloving is to wear a thin disposable glove (4 mil Nitrile) under a heavier glove (8 mil Nitrile). The outer glove is the primary protective barrier while the under glove retains dexterity and acts as a secondary barrier in the event of degradation or permeation of the chemical through the outer glove. Alternately, you could wear a heavier (and usually more expensive and durable) 8 mil Nitrile glove as an under glove and wear thinner, disposable 4 mil Nitrile glove as the outer glove (which can help improve dexterity). However, remember to change the thinner outer gloves frequently.

When working with mixtures of chemicals, it may be advisable to double glove with two sets of gloves made from different materials. This method can offer protection in case the outer glove material becomes permeated by one chemical in the mixture, while allowing for enough protection until both gloves can be removed. The type of glove materials selected for this type of application will be based on the specific chemicals used as part of the mixture. Check chemical manufacturers glove selection charts first before choosing which type of glove to use.

5.4 Protective Clothing

Protective clothing includes lab coats or other protective garments such as aprons, boots, shoe covers, Tyvek coveralls, and other items, that can be used to protect street clothing from biological or chemical contamination and splashes as well as providing additional body protection from some physical hazards.

DRS strongly encourages Principal Investigators and laboratory supervisors to require long pants and clothing which effectively covers the torso for all laboratory personnel, including visitors, working in or entering laboratories and laboratory support areas under their supervision.

The following characteristics should be taken into account when choosing protective clothing:

  • The specific hazard(s) and the degree of protection required, including the potential exposure to chemicals, radiation, biological materials, and physical hazards such as heat.
  • The type of material the clothing is made of and its resistance to the specific hazard(s) that will be encountered.
  • The comfort of the protective clothing, which impacts the acceptance and ease of use by laboratory personnel.
  • Whether the clothing is disposable or reusable - which impacts cost, maintenance, and cleaning requirements.
  • How quickly the clothing can be removed during an emergency. It is recommended that lab coats use snaps or other easy to remove fasteners instead of buttons.

Laboratory personnel who are planning experiments that may require special protective clothing or have questions regarding the best protective clothing to choose for their experiment(s) should contact DRS at 333-2755 for recommendations.

5.5 Respirators

Respiratory protection includes disposable respirators (such as N95 filtering facepieces, commonly referred to as “dust masks”), air purifying, and atmosphere supplying respirators. Respirators are generally not recommended for laboratory workers. Engineering controls, such as dilution ventilation, fume hoods, and other devices, which capture and remove vapors, fumes, and gases from the breathing zone of the user are preferred over the use of respirators in most laboratory environments.

The use of all types of respiratory protection at UIUC is governed by OSHA standards and the UIUC Respiratory Protection Program. Contact Safety and Compliance at 265-9828,, for more information.

5.6 Hearing Protection

Hearing protective devices includes earplugs, earmuffs, or similar devices designed to protect your hearing. In situations where occupational noise exposures exceed permissible levels and cannot be reduced through engineering or other controls, hearing protective devices must be worn. The UIUC Hearing Protection Program protects employees who during their normal duties experience an occupational noise exposure as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) General Industry Standard 29 CFR 1910.95 – Occupational noise exposure and the Hearing Conservation Amendment. Contact Safety and Compliance at 265-9828,, for more information, especially if you have questions about whether you are receiving an occupational noise exposure, or you would like to request workplace monitoring.

5.7 Foot Protection

Laboratory personnel (and other personnel) must wear foot protection at all times in laboratories, laboratory support areas, and other areas with chemical, biological and physical hazards present. Laboratory personnel should not wear sandals or similar types of perforated or open toes shoes whenever working with or around hazardous chemicals. This is due to the potential exposure to toxic chemicals and the potential associated with physical hazards such as dropping pieces of equipment or broken glass being present. In general, shoes should be comfortable, and leather shoes are preferable to cloth shoes due to the better chemical resistance of leather compared to cloth. Leather shoes also tend to absorb fewer chemicals than cloth shoes. However, leather shoes are not designed for long term exposure to direct contact with chemicals. In such instances, chemically resistant rubber boots are necessary.

DRS strongly encourages Principal Investigators and laboratory supervisors to require the use of closed toed shoes for all laboratory personnel, including visitors, working in or entering laboratories and laboratory support areas under their supervision.

In some cases, the use of steel-toed shoes may be appropriate when heavy equipment or other items are involved. Chemically resistant boots or shoe covers may be required when working with large quantities of chemicals and the potential exists for large spills to occur. Contact DRS at 333-2755 if you would like more information about foot protection.

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