Lab PPE considerations
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Lab PPE considerations

Jun 08, 2023

Choosing the right PPE for scientists and lab personnel

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to any line of work. After all, there isn't a job that doesn't involve some sort of risk to your physical or mental wellbeing. Even jobs that might appear mundane and safe on the surface, such as office work, come with their own risks and require some protective gear. Here, we focus on the PPE you’ll need if you’re a scientist or an assistant working in a lab – including types of protection needed as well as what you ought to consider before the purchase.

Body protection is key. Most of the time, you will see people working in laboratories with long, white, doctor-like lab coats. And while they might seem like a cliche to an untrained eye, these coats are vital to anyone who has to work with dangerous chemicals, germs or other high-risk materials in scientific facilities.

Firstly, a lab coat is long and sturdy enough to protect against any accidental spills or splashes. Next, it's often made out of material that can destroy 99% of bacteria, making the wearer infection-free most of the time. Finally, it's easy to clean and maintain.

Naturally, lab coats are not the only form of body protection, and you’ll have to come into the lab prepared in advance. That means wearing sweatshirts and other tops with long sleeves, long-legged trousers, and both socks and shoes that cover the entirety of the foot.

As stated earlier, lots of splashes and spills can happen in a laboratory, and your eyes will need as much protection as your skin. So, the ideal solution is to find a high-quality pair of glasses, be they goggles or wraparounds.

Proper eye protection gear will always be made out of thick material resistant to different substances. Depending on what kind of lab you’re working in, you might require simple glasses or specialized anti-impact goggles with a tight seal and anti-fogging capabilities.

Hand protection is another consideration. Technically speaking, gloves also fall under body protection, but they’re a category on their own. After all, as a lab worker, you will be using your hands a lot, so you need immediate protection from harmful materials.

Most people will opt for disposable gloves made out of one of the following materials: vinyl; latex; neoprene; nitrile; polyvinyl chloride.

However, depending on what type of lab work you’re doing, you might have to buy a pair of reusable gloves, also known as gauntlets. More often than not, they are made out of a combination of durable ingredients that can withstand most chemicals and protect your hands flawlessly.

Some laboratories contain machinery that produces excessive noise. Personnel working close to those machines will require the proper hearing protection. Normally, that includes earplugs, earmuffs, canal caps, or even noise-cancelling headsets. Some ear plugs come in pre-moulded sizes and shapes that provide the perfect seal and noise protection. Others are formable, i.e., they expand and fit the exact shape of the ear canal of the user, thus filling it up exactly as much as necessary.

One significant section of PPE includes respiratory protection equipment, also known as RPE. In simple terms, it is protection for your breathing, and it usually involves masks or breathing apparatuses.

This type of protection is crucial when working in a lab. More often than not, the chemicals you work with will emit toxic fumes that can enter your airways and your lungs, poisoning you slowly. A durable mask will be the perfect option then. Of course, if you only handle light chemicals, you can go for single-use disposable masks. You can normally buy those at any pharmacy.

Weight is a top consideration. Every single item you wear in a lab will have a certain weight to it. The general rule of thumb is to avoid buying anything too heavy. After all, you will be spending a minimum of eight hours at your workstation. Furthermore, your PPE is something you simply must wear at all times. If it's too heavy, it will impede your effectiveness and movement.

Of course, the PPE you choose mustn't be too light, either. Broadly speaking, the lighter the material is, the more likely it will be porous and prone to tearing. And the last thing you need is your lab coat or apron tearing up and exposing your bare skin to the hazardous materials you’re working with.

Comfort matters with PPE, especially if workers are stuck in a lab for hours during extreme weather conditions, i.e., in the summer heat. If the equipment they’re wearing isn't comfortable, it can distract them from doing their job right. Moreover, chafing and friction can cause irritation and even rashes, adding to the long list of risks of working in a lab.

This is closely related to the previous consideration; when buying equipment for yourself and your workers, make sure it fits well. Every employee has different needs in terms of clothing, equipment, and accessories. And you will need to take it all into account when placing an order. Remember that very few items are one-size-fits-all. And for a job as risky as laboratory research, you can't take any chances with poor-fitting products.

Not all labs come with the same levels of risk. For example, a medical lab will differ from a biology lab. So naturally, the workers will handle entirely different types of materials. Some labs might even have entire sections where workers don't handle the same type of workload as their colleagues. So, when ordering safety equipment, make sure to learn all about the potential workplace hazards of your lab and then shop accordingly.

A high-quality design is a must with safety items. For instance, a lab coat needs to be made from sterile, anti-germ materials that offer protection. In addition, you need to be able to clean it easily, and the weave must be durable enough to prevent wear and tear for at least several years.

When working in a dangerous environment, nothing is more important than the safety of your workers. Therefore, make sure to do your due diligence and research the PPE standards for scientists and other lab personnel. Not only will the right equipment save lives, but it will also help increase productivity in the workplace, thus earning your company lots of money in the process.

Choosing the right PPE for scientists and lab personnel lab coats