Personal Protective Equipment in the Lab
With the arrival of summer and warm – or rather, hot – weather, people have switched their wardrobes to warm weather wear. Often, summertime attire, such as shorts, short skirts, sandals and flip flops, is chosen strictly for comfort and to combat the Texas heat. However, anyone who works in a laboratory should remember that safety is just as important in the summer as at any other time of year. With that in mind, EHS would like to remind everyone of appropriate clothing and equipment for personal protection in a laboratory.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) includes all clothing and work accessories designed to protect employees from workplace hazards. However, personal protection starts with personal clothing choices as well. While not considered PPE, personal clothing offers a measure of protection against chemical splash and other hazards. For this reason, long pants are a much better option than shorts or short skirts. Closed-toe shoes are also a must for lab workers; they protect against chemical splash, moving machinery, sharp objects, hot materials, and falling objects. Crocs or other shoes with holes in the tops are not appropriate foot protection. A recent lab accident resulted in severe chemical burns on the worker’s legs and feet, because the person was wearing shorts and flip flips. Lab workers should also avoid wearing or should secure loose clothing and should tie back long hair. Loose clothing or long hair can be dragged through chemicals in beakers or open flames (such as on a Bunsen burner) or get caught in equipment. Long, loose sleeves on a shirt or sweater can even knock over items on the bench top.
When working in a lab, PPE is almost always necessary to protect workers from chemical exposures and other hazards. A lab coat or other protective clothing should be worn whenever chemicals or biological materials are handled. The lab coat will protect the wearer’s personal clothing and exposed skin (such as on arms) from contaminants. Lab coats should be buttoned closed for best protection. Gloves should also be worn whenever handling hazardous materials, even in small quantities. It is important to choose the appropriate type glove for the hazard present, such as chemical resistant gloves, heat resistant gloves, etc. Be aware that no chemical resistant glove protects against all chemical hazards. Read the Material Safety Data Sheet for guidance on the appropriate type of glove to wear, or consult with lab supply distributors for glove vs. chemical comparison charts when choosing chemically resistant gloves.
Eye and face protection is extremely important when working in a lab and must be worn if hazards exist that could cause eye or face injury. Safety glasses and goggles provide protection against impact hazards, while chemical splash goggles provide the best protection against chemical splash. Even if the quantity of chemical is small or engineering controls, such as fume hoods, are used, eye protection must be worn. Other types of goggles offer protection from laser or UV hazards. Face shields protect the entire face from projectiles and offers some protection from splashes. Safety glasses or goggles must be worn under face shields.
Lab coats, gloves, and safety eyewear are the basic PPE needed in a lab. Additional PPE may be needed for other hazards. For more information on personal protection, see Chapter 5 of the TAMU Laboratory Safety Manual.