Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE”, is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other laboratory hazards. PPE should be durable, designed to provide adequate protection, and capable of preventing exposure to hazardous substances.
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When must PPE be worn?
PPE must be provided to and worn by all laboratory personnel, students, and visitors, when entering a laboratory where hazards are present, including spaces where research animals are present. The extent and type of PPE selected for an activity depends on the risks associated with the laboratory operations being performed.
What kind of PPE is required?
Closed toed shoes, and clothing that covers the legs entirely, are required in all laboratories. The minimum PPE necessary in the laboratory consists of;
- a lab coat,
- and safety goggles or glasses
Shoe covers, forearm protection, face shield, or a respirator may be required depending on the type of work being conducted. Safety Data Sheets provide specific PPE recommendations for handling chemicals.
What are the PPE requirements for transporting chemicals?
PPE must be removed before leaving the laboratory unless it is being used to safely transport substances between rooms and buildings. PPE should be worn to transport materials between laboratories in the same building. PPE worn for this purpose should be clean to prevent contamination of communal areas. Only one hand should be gloved so that one hand is free to touch communal surfaces (e.g., door handles, elevator buttons).
While PPE is an important component of a comprehensive laboratory safety program, it is most effective when used in conjunction with, and not a substitute for, engineering controls, administrative controls, good laboratory practices, and safety equipment. OSHA requires the use of PPE to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective in reducing these exposures to acceptable levels.
Personal attire must be considered when working in a laboratory since clothing, accessories, and hair may become entangled in equipment, accidentally spill substances, or pass through flames unintentionally. Proper personal attire includes clothing that provides adequate coverage for the legs and close-toed footwear that provides adequate support and has suitable traction for laboratory activities. Hair should be confined or tied back.
The following should not be worn in the laboratory:
- tight fitting clothing
- loose sleeves,
- dangling jewelry,
- clothing that leaves the legs exposed,
- or shoes with heels greater than one inch.
Eye protection must be worn when working with substances or equipment that present a hazard to the eye. Eye protection must meet design requirements set forth by ANSI (Z87.1-2015) and must be appropriate for the activity being performed. Safety glasses should fit securely and be free of smudges or scratches that may obstruct vision. Safety glasses are designed for impact hazards and may be equipped with side shields to provide more complete protection than those without. Safety goggles provide an increased level of protection and should be worn when splashes may occur, or glassware may explode/implode under pressure.
Face shields are designed to be used in combination with safety goggles to provide additional protection to the face and eyes against splashes and particulate matter. Face shields do not provide adequate protection against large projectiles or liquids, unless they are used in combination with safety goggles. Polycarbonate face shields that offer protection against ultraviolet (UV) radiation should be worn when using instruments that produce UV light and do not have UV filters.
Gloves should always be worn when working with chemicals even if the chemical containers are tightly closed or the experiment being conducted is within a closed system. Gloves should be comfortable, of sufficient length to prevent exposure of the hand and wrist and should be appropriate for the type of work to be performed. Gloves should be inspected for visible tears before use, changed when they become soiled or compromised, and discarded appropriately after use. Gloves come in a variety of materials that provide different levels of protection. Laboratory personnel should consult the manufacturer’s SDS to determine the type of glove necessary to provide splash or full contact protection against the substances used. Some individuals develop allergies to the materials used to manufacture gloves. If this occurs, select a comparable glove made of an alternate material.
Lab Coats and Aprons
Lab coats must be provided to and worn by all laboratory personnel, students (including those in instructional laboratories), and visitors when entering a laboratory. Lab coats must provide adequate protection from the risk of contamination and must be laundered on a routine basis. Only single use disposable lab coats or lab coats that are routinely laundered by an approved vendor may be used. Lab coats may not be laundered by laboratory personnel. Each department is responsible for maintaining a contract with an outside vendor that provides lab coats and laundering services. Additional considerations when selecting lab coat are listed below.
- Lab coats should be properly sized, provide body coverage from the neck to the knees, and cover the full length of the arm.
- Lab coats should have fasteners (such as snaps) that allow for easy removal in case of contamination.
- Lab coats should be made with flame-retardant material if working with open flames, large quantities of flammable materials, or pyrophoric chemicals.
- Pockets should be on the outside of the coat (not the inside) to minimize potential contamination of street clothes or skin.
- Personnel operating at BSL-2 should have cuffed sleeves to provide continuous coverage from the wrist to the forearm and prevent the coat from riding up during work with infectious material.
Lab aprons are designed to be worn in combination with a lab coat to provide extra protection when pouring corrosive chemicals, using an acid bath, or manipulating chemicals in a manner that increases the likelihood for splashes or spills. Lab aprons should fit comfortably and extend from just below the neck to just above the tops of the feet.
Respiratory protection requirements vary depending on the type of respiratory hazard present. In general, respiratory protection should fit snugly and form a seal so that air may not leak through the sides of the respirator. George Mason University’s Respiratory Protection Plan is available on the EHS website and provides additional information and guidance on the use, care, and maintenance of respirators. If your work requires you to wear respiratory protection [e.g., half face, full face, PAPR, particulate mask (including N95 or N99)], you must contact EHS prior to beginning work.
George Mason University’s Hearing Conservation Program as outlined in the Hearing Conservation Plan covers any employee exposed to noise levels in excess 85 A-weighting decibels (dBA) over an eight-hour period. The program is available on the EHS website and provides additional information on the use and care of hearing protection devices. Hearing protection, provided by earplugs or earmuffs, should be worn by personnel exposed to 85 dBA over an eight-hour period. Employees must be enrolled in the Hearing Conservation Program if they are assigned to a work area (or work in a similar exposure group) where occupational exposure to noise exceeds the action level of 85 dBA. In some laboratories, the combination of noises generated by continuously running equipment (e.g., refrigerators, freezers, and incubators) and intermittent use of equipment such as centrifuges, motors, sonicators, and homogenizers may reach levels that exceed 85 dBA. As a rule, if an employee must raise his/her voice to speak with someone less than 1 meter away, then noise levels probably exceed 85 dBA. If you believe noise levels may exceed the action level, contact EHS.