Personal protective equipment
When to use PPE
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be considered the last line of defence in protecting yourself from hazards associated with experiments or processes.
All engineering and administrative controls should be in place first to prevent potentially harmful exposure to a chemical, biological agent, laser, etc. For example, can a less toxic chemical be used in the experiment?
Laboratory or workshop settings
Under most circumstances, PPE must be worn when in a laboratory or workshop.
COSHH/risk assessments should list all PPE needed to safely carry out an experiment. Regulations require that PPE is:
- properly assessed before use to make sure it is fit for purpose
- maintained and stored properly
- provided with instructions on how to use it safely
- used correctly
- Lab coats should be worn at all times in all areas where “wet” work is carried out, such as in chemistry labs or during sample preparation. They should be laundered frequently.
- Safety glasses should be worn in all designated areas, such as where there are signs saying "Safety Glasses To Be Worn" or "Eye Protection To Be Worn" and whenever handling chemicals, glass vacuum or pressure apparatus.
- Specialist research areas may require specialist PPE.
- Disposable gloves give short-term protection against some chemicals but some solvents may attack them. Always wear the right gloves and check if you are unsure.
Wear PPE that fits
It is so important to use personal protective equipment (PPE) that fits and does not hamper someone's ability to work safely:
- When operating equipment or handling chemicals, over-sized clothing becomes a safety hazard.
- Wearing gloves that don’t fit makes it difficult to grip or work accurately.
- Incorrectly fitted respiratory protective equipment (RPE) will not adequately protect you.
It is also important to remember that pregnancy and the menopause may both introduce additional difficulties with proper fit and comfort.
To make sure you are protected, always let your supervisor know if your PPE dies not fit or is uncomfortable.
The standard glove recommended in most schools is nitrile, which is resistant to most commonly used chemicals.
However, nitrile gloves are not suitable for handling certain chemicals.
If you experience skin issues when wearing gloves or have allergy concerns, let your supervisor know.
A risk assessment determines whether the use of a face mask is necessary to minimise exposure to dust or fumes, although other engineering controls such as fume cupboards should be considered first.
The type of mask you use is dependent on the type of exposure. Some masks require a face-fit test to ensure the mask gives the required protection.
For exposure to dust or particulates, three types of face mask are typically used: FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3, which reduce the amount of dust you breathe by factors of 4, 10 and 20 respectively (the higher the number, the better the protection). If you plan to use FFP3 face masks, you will need to have a face-fit test.
Some masks are disposable and should only be used once. Non-disposable masks will need regular inspection and filter changes. Always follow manufacturers instructions.