Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Chemical Specialty PPE

I’ve discussed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) a couple of times in the past, and for good reason: it's the last line of defense against injury when doing work. In addition to basic PPE, there are specialty protective items that are used to address dangers related to particular tasks.

One fairly common work hazard involves chemical exposure. Part of my work this week has involved repairing the power feed to some pumps in a sewer manhole. In addition, many of my hobbies involve volatile chemicals. Additionally, a lot of prepper tasks can leave you exposed to the same kinds of risks, so having the correct protective equipment on hand will help keep you safe and healthy.

Inhaled Particles and Fumes
When dealing with dust and particulate matter in the air, a basic dust mask works wonderfully so long as it meets the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) N95 standard. I also feel like the small extra charge for the exhalation valve is money well spent, because it keeps my face cooler and my glasses from fogging. This mask, however, does nothing to protect you from the gases in the air you breathe.

For fumes and harmful vapors, a chemical cartridge mask is what you need. Similar in principle to the classic “gas mask,” these masks use replaceable cartridge filters to remove harmful chemicals as you breathe. Each type of cartridge is only useful with specific chemicals, however, so make sure you’re using the right ones and changing them as recommended by the manufacturer. Each mask will come with complete instructions for the use and care of the product.

Cartridge masks are available in both half- and full-face configurations. My personal mask is a half-face, because it is cooler, works better with my prescription eyewear, and I don’t often deal with environments so hazardous that I need sealed full-face protection. However, if you feel you need this protection, it is available.

One other major concern arises with respiratory protection: facial hair. As anyone who has been trained in its use can tell you, facial hair is largely incompatible with respiratory masks. It makes getting a good seal between the mask and your face virtually impossible, which renders the mask itself almost useless. I have come to accept as a fact of life that I have to use my mask for anything, my beautiful ginger beard will get a heavy trim. It's a sad but necessary requirement to protect my lungs.

Facial Protection
That same beard may get referred to as “face armor,” but it's worse than useless if caustic or otherwise harmful chemicals get splashed into my face, as the beard can hold the chemical against my skin or even ignite. Safety glasses protect the eyes in the event of a splash, but there’s a whole lot of face that is still exposed and can be grievously harmed. A face shield will keep sparks, splashes, and hot spatter away from you and keep your face away from harm.

Your hands are always vulnerable to harm, since they’re usually in direct contact with the hazards you’re addressing. Gloves are a necessary protective item, but when you’re dealing with chemicals, a cloth or leather glove can be at least as harmful as helpful, because it can trap dangerous and damaging materials and hold them against your skin. Gloves are also very difficult to take off in a hurry, so this prolonged contact can dramatically increase the damage suffered. Chemical-resistant gloves don't absorb dangerous substances or allow them through to contact the skin. They're also thicker than nitrile or latex gloves, meaning they last longer and are far less easily damaged or compromised.

Your clothes are also vulnerable to the same weakness as normal gloves. Chemicals can soak into your clothing, destroying it and harming you. When you’re working with very hazardous materials, or in an environment where spills and splashes are most likely, a disposable coverall suit with a hood gives a nearly complete body covering. Combined with the rest of the PPE I’ve discussed here and elsewhere, this outfit will protect you from almost any chemical exposure a prepper will encounter.

The kinds of exposures it won’t help with are the kind requiring very expensive, very specialized gear and training [e.g. MOPP gear, or Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear, usually designed for chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons], and are situations into which one shouldn’t enter unless it is your job or your duty to do so and you have the gear and training available to properly handle them.

Chemical exposures can be very dangerous. The kinds of protective gear needed to deal with them are inexpensive and readily available. There is no reason to be unprepared.


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