Personal Protective Equipment

Protective Equipment

Many people who wear protective equipment when using hazardous materials at work will use the same materials at home without any type of protection even though the materials are just as dangerous or harmful at home as they are at work. This section provides information on how to prevent accidents, fires, and contamination from hazardous materials at home and provides information about the different types of protective equipment that are available.

The type of protective equipment you need depends upon the type of hazardous material you will be exposed to or the physical danger you will encounter. Read the label of a product; if it contains a hazardous material, be sure that you are using the proper protective equipment. It is a good idea to read the contents label with each new purchase; manufacturers occasionally make changes to their product. Too many people risk injury, poisoning, and even cancer by using hazardous products without proper protection.

Complete protection may require a hardhat, safety goggles or glasses, splash suit, gloves, respirator, and safety shoes. Properly designed and fitted safety equipment should not be awkward to wear or use. Any time or money lost from using protective equipment and safety procedures is more than compensated for by avoiding costs from potential injury or sickness.

There are two approaches to eliminating accidents:

Eliminate unsafe conditions. Work areas and equipment should be examined to determine if any unsafe conditions (e.g., frayed electrical wires, improper ventilation or lighting, leaking containers of hazardous material) exist. Any unsafe condition should be corrected before beginning work in the area.
Reduce unsafe acts. Working in a safe environment requires you to examine those actions you control while being aware of those situations beyond your control. Care must be taken to ensure that any actions taken to protect or reduce accidents in one area do not cause or set up the conditions for accidents in some other area.


Before determining the type and degree of protective clothing needed for proper protection, the physical, chemical, and toxic properties of a hazardous material must be thoroughly assessed. The work function and probability of exposure to a hazardous material must also be considered when selecting protective clothing.

Protective clothing is available in a variety of styles (aprons, coveralls, splash suits, and fully encapsulating suits) and materials (natural rubber, synthetic rubber, and plastic). If a hazard is minor, minimal protection is required. This could be a cloth, plastic or rubber coverall, or apron. If you use cloth work clothes, wash them separately in a washing machine with a full water level of hot water and detergent. Rinse the washing machine thoroughly after cleaning the contaminated clothes. Line dry the work clothes rather than using a dryer; the high heat of a dryer can ignite any flammable vapors remaining in the clothing.

As the danger from a hazardous material increases, so does the required level of protection. A splash suit made of PVC is suitable for a corrosive liquid when there will be minimal contact with organic materials. If the hazardous material is more toxic, then more protection must be used. Neoprene or butyl rubber splash suits are good barriers against toxic hazards.

Protective clothing protects primarily because of the type of material used in making the clothes. In selecting the proper material choose one that is strong, durable, flexible, easy to decontaminate, and chemical resistant. The most important aspect of a material is its chemical resistance. When protective clothing comes into contact with a hazardous material, it must be able to resist damage, penetration, or permeation. Consult with a salesperson from your local safety equipment and clothing supply store or hardware store to determine what type of protective clothing meets your needs.

Wearing protective clothing can create a temperature problem. Someone enclosed in a plastic or rubber suit is shielded from the normal circulation of air needed to cool the body. This can lead to heat stress or heat stroke. During extended periods of work when the body is unable to cool itself because of temperature, clothes, or work schedule, the best method for cooling the body is to take frequent rest periods.


Ear plugs (the higher the decibel rating number on the package of earplugs the better the protection) or earmuffs should be worn if noise is a problem (e.g., impact tools, heavy machinery, and consistently loud or high-pitched sounds).


Eyes are particularly vulnerable to injury from hazardous products. Many hazardous products may cause eye damage if splashed into an eye or eyes (e.g., oven cleaners, drain openers, paint thinners). Wraparound safety goggles should be worn to protect the eyes from chemical splashes, mists and vapors, and to protect the eyes from scratches or cuts from metal burrs, rocks, or other flying matter. Standard eyeglasses do not provide adequate protection from hazardous chemicals or flying matter. Safety goggles are inexpensive and can be purchased at safety supply stores or at many hardware stores.


For foot protection against hazardous chemical liquids wear a boot made of PVC (plastic-polyvinyl chloride), neoprene, butyl rubber, or some other chemical resistant material. Two styles of chemical resistant foot protection are available: pullover boots and shoes. For foot protection against physical accidents, such as falling items or cuts, heavy leather or steel toe and shank boots should be worn.


The skin on your hands and fingers are the areas most exposed to a hazardous material. When working with a hazardous material, make sure that you use a glove that will protect your hand from contact with the hazardous material. Nitrile (synthetic rubber) gloves are effective protection against most household products. When selecting gloves consider the thickness and cuff length. A thicker glove with longer cuffs provides better protection, but be sure that the gloves are not so thick as to inhibit the required dexterity to complete the job. Consult with a salesperson from your local safety equipment and clothing supply store or hardware store to determine what type of glove meets your needs.

For extra protection, two pair of gloves may be worn. For heavy work, thick leather gloves may be worn to prevent the puncturing or tearing of the chemical protective gloves. If the thick leather work gloves become contaminated, they should be discarded; leather is difficult to decontaminate. For lighter jobs a pair of thin gloves (surgical gloves) may be worn inside the chemical protective gloves. This not only provides protection in case the outer glove is torn or permeated, but it will also add an extra layer of protection for the hands during the removal of the outer gloves and other contaminated protective clothing.

Shirt or splash suit cuffs should be worn on the outside of protective gloves to prevent any of the hazardous material from leaking into the glove. If your work requires your hands to be elevated above your head, the cuffs of the shirt or splash suit should be taped to the gloves to provide a proper seal.


A hardhat is worn as the basic safety equipment for head protection. If you are doing any construction work at home you may want to add a hardhat to your list of protective equipment. Hardhats are adjustable so that a liner can be worn in cold weather. They also have chinstraps to secure the hardhat to the head when you are bending, ducking, or wearing a full-face respirator.

Manufacturers have adapted most hardhats to allow face shields and ear protection to be attached. Face shields attached to a hardhat can provide added protection. To prevent overhead splashes from running down the inside of the shield and splashing on your eyes or face, be sure that there are no gaps between the shield and the hardhat.


There are different types of masks and respirators you can use. Particle masks are inexpensive and provide minimal protection from dust, but they are inadequate for use with products that can produce vapors, fumes, or mists. A respirator may be required for products that can produce vapors, fumes, or mists. The basic function of a respirator is to reduce the risk of respiratory injury from breathing airborne contaminants. An Air Purifying Respirator (APR) protects you by removing the contaminants from the air before you breathe it; an Atmosphere Supplying Respirator (ASR) protects you by supplying you with an alternative source of clean air to breathe. Some chemicals used for household projects may require a particle mask or an APR.

There are a wide variety of APRs available, but they generally fall into two main categories:

Particulate APRs have mechanical filtering elements and are used with aerosol spray paints, some pesticides, or when in contact with dust from stone or woodwork, or with fumes from soldering or welding.

Gas and vapor APRs have chemical absorbent (e.g., charcoal filters) cartridges and may be used with ammonia, pesticides, paint related materials, printing and photographic solvents, organic vapors, and other hazardous chemicals.

A respirator should be NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved for the particular contaminant to which you will be exposed. On all NIOSH approved respirators there will be an approval number consisting of the letters “TC” followed by two sets of letters and numbers (e.g., TC-23C-212).

A respirator should be comfortable and leak-proof. Different people have different face sizes. Try on a respirator before you purchase it to make sure it fits properly. Men with facial hair may not be able to get a good fit with a respirator and may not be adequately protected.

The filters and cartridges of reusable respirators have to be replaced regularly. If it is difficult to breathe, the filter is probably clogged and needs to be replaced. If you can smell the hazardous material through the respirator, then the chemical absorbent is probably used up and the cartridge will need to be replaced.

If you rely on odor to determine when to replace your cartridge, be sure that the hazardous material is odor producing.
General rules of thumb are to replace the cartridges after two weeks, after eight hours of continuous work, or if you can smell the hazardous material. A way to avoid replacing filters and cartridges is to replace the whole respirator. There are disposable respirators on the market with hazardous material specific filters and cartridges in place. Consult with a salesperson from your local safety equipment and clothing supply store or hardware store to determine what type of respirator will meet your needs.