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Selection and use of chemical protective apparel: a survey of users' concerns.

Chemical protective apparel (CPA) is often used for providing dermal protection to employees in hazardous work environments where other exposure control measures are infeasible. Industrial hygienists and other safety and health professionals (professional users) are typically responsible for selecting the best protective apparel for the job. Selection is based on the toxicologic and physical characteristics of the hazardous agent or agents involved, the characteristics of the work being done, the availability of good test data for the CPA being considered, the need for decontamination and many other factors.

The purpose of this survey was: 1) to identify, from the professional users' standpoint, the "areas of weakness" for appropriately selecting and ensuring the use of CPA in the workplace and 2) to communicate these needs to manufacturers and distributors of CPA who can elicit change, thereby minimizing possible liabilities.


The questionnaire for the survey was distributed to 300 professional users of CPA representing 162 different companies across the U.S. The distribution of the questionnaire is illustrated in Figure 1 by company type. A deadline of one month was given for response returns. The response return rate for this survey was 12.3%; however, respondent location data suggests minimal duplication of responses by company, so the response return rate may in fact represent responses from 23% of the companies polled. Response distribution by company type is given in Figure 2.

The questionnaire was divided into three sections: selection, user comfort and product stewardship. Data was not collected on the identity of survey respondents and their affiliations, thereby allowing for more open disclosure of problem areas.

Results Of Survey

Professional users were asked to rank the following considerations when selecting/purchasing CPA (1=highest consideration).
Consideration Rank
Impermeability to chemicals 1
Resistivity to chemicals 2

Physical material
 property vs. use 3
Availability/Cost 4&5
Reusability 6
Appearance 7&8

Users were asked to describe the "areas of weakness" in CPA testing that they were aware of that could have an effect on the end use/selection of CPA. The top five concerns (from high to low) noted:

1) Lack of standardized/consensus testing, quality assurance and reporting protocol (temperature, pressure, test conditions, challenge concentrations, test material thickness, etc.)

2) Lack of mixture test data, such as for petroleum products

3) Lack of permeation/breakthrough data in general

4) Lack of seam, closure, puncture and pinhole testing for physical viability of materials of construction

5) Lack of heat stress probability test data specific to different materials.

Users were also asked whether they requested any of the following tests (specifically) from the manufacturers/distributors prior to purchase of CPA and whether the appropriate technical literature was available.

The majority of respondents were not familiar with the following tests by number: ASTM F23, 903, 739, 1052 or NFPA 1991-1993, but did request permeation/breakthrough data, flammability data, material melting points and seam construction data from manufacturers and vendors. ASTM 739 (19%) and F23 (13%) were requested specifically.

Respondents felt that technical literature was not always available for specific chemicals or chemical categories of concern, especially with mixtures. The literature that is available is thought to have too much variability due to lack of consistent reporting and standard test protocol.

When asked for their source of technical literature on CPA, respondents noted that different sources were used in combination:

40%--Manufacturer data

27%--Vendor data

27%--Various texts: ASTM, NFPA, trade journal, AIHA/CPC guide.

14%--Others: M. Blutler's CPC Index, Canadian info., Fosberg data, Mansdorf's Guide to PPE, Swedish testing database

8%--In-house test data

Users were asked to describe the method by which they ensure the appropriate use of CPA. Many gave a combination of answers:

32%--Rely on audit, evaluations, inspections

16%--Develop written ppe requirements, charts of ppe for various jobs and operating procedures


14%--No method: "Hit or Miss," "Rely on end user"

8%--Purchase control measures

5%--Left up to supervisors

3%--In-house certification

3%--Use MSDS information

3%--Suruey of operator feedback

This two part question asked users for the common misuses of CPA for which they were familiar and any resulting effects. Common responses are grouped and ordered by most to least common response. The majority (63%) of the responses indicate selection misuses (incompatible/universal). Note: Multiple responses given by each respondent give total values greater than 100%. Read as % noted per misuse.

Incompatible selection (39%,)--"minor burn, irritation and some serious injury," "skin absorption of contaminant," "none yet," "false sense of security," "skin conditions," "dermatitis, bums, sensitization," "skin irritation, dryness, dermatitis," "minor chemical exposure," "dermatitis," "nothing to date," "burns/irritation," "heat stress."

Universal application (24%)--"skin exposure," "underprotection," "to date, no harm," "skin conditions," "don't know," "dermatitis," "fortunately, no injury."

Lack of decontamination (15%)--"Cross contamination." "unknown." "dermatitis, sensitization, unnecessary exposure."

Failure to inspect (12%)--"potential for exposure." "dermatitis," "some injuries."

Overspecification (6%)--"inefficiency, heat stress, discomfort and removal of CPA, waste of money."

Improper fit (6%)--"potential exposure."

Professional users were asked whether they favored splash-permeation data and how they would use this information:

Yes, 53%; No, 16%; No answer, 23%; Don't Know, 5%; Inhouse testing, 3%.

Uses: "deciding suitability of marginal materials," "hazardous waste remediation/investigation," "may allow for downgrading of CPA," "upset/emergency response," "cleanup teams/maintenance protocol," "unloading/transferring materials where decontamination is possible," "one time uses/short duration," "gives more realistic/representative selection criteria for our actual uses"

Users responded to a question regarding their concerns in recommending CPA in emergency situations, where mixed exposures and physical hazards existed, such as in a fire in a chemical plant. The majority of concerns are represented in the quotations below:

"Concern with uncertainty of chemical mixtures, concern with safety hazards and impact on integrity of CPA, concern about heat stress, thermal (effect) and excessive water."

"Fire fighting gear needs to be protected from chemical contamination ... because of the difficulty in decontamination after exposure. The cost of replacing the gear is high but contamination must be considered in decisions to confiscate fire fighting gear."

"Haz Mat teams use of gear without specifies of spilled materials."

Author's Comment: Many respondents consider selection of CPA for unpredictable emergency situations to be the most difficult selection scenario with the largest potential liability.

Users responded to a question concerning their interest in having CPA labeled and indicated the type of label information of interest:
Yes No Not Sure NA
80% 11% 5% 4%

Label Info: "Material, thickness (min.), manufacturer, model/lot number," "Color coding application," "Approved for use with:--- & ASTM method used," "Classes of chemicals CPA protects against," "Chemicals and their breakthrough times," "No, any labeling would be insufficient," "Consensus standard for testing first, then provide: May be used for Basic fabric, coatings and thicknesses," "Coded for cross reference to detailed literature," "What the CPA should not be used for," "Specific chemical use; then provide a blank tag so we could fill in specific chemicals."

The following concerns for user comfort, convenience and material integrity were ranked, by level of importance to users.

The top four answers included dexterity, heat stress, fit and ability to provide total encapsulation against hazard.

Ranked remainder of concerns: Abrasive resistance for severe manual jobs, material breathability and identifiers for appropriate selection.


Misuses of CPA were identified by the majority of the respondents. "Universal use" and the incompatible selection of CPA account for approximately 63% of these misuses. Although only one respondent noted "some serious injury," many noted OSHA recordable occupational illness cases, e.g. dermatitis and chemical sensitizations.

Professional users of CPA admit to having difficulty selecting CPA primarily due to the considerable lack of viable material test data: permeation/breakthrough, puncture/pinhole, resistivity, material conductivity, splash-permeation, heat stress probability, etc. Some users have the capability of conducting their own in-house testing, which further complicates the problem of allowing for an open exchange of consistent test data, but may help the singular company.

The majority of users were concerned about providing adequate protection where mixed hazards are possible, such as in a fire where chemical agents are present. This was seen as the ultimate challenge to selecting appropriate protection. Providing adequate protection for mixed chemical exposures is also a challenge. To reduce potential liabilities, viable and consistent product testing is needed. Test data should be centralized for reference by all.

Users have concerns about the level of product stewardship provided by CPA manufacturers for their products, primarily in the area of technical support and product labeling. Educated technical representatives are needed and the transfer of specific product test information via garment labeling and package/carton labeling was desirable to users.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Top end product manufacturers.
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