National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH) Protective Clothing and Ensembles Program is aimed at protecting the skin from various health hazards that may be encountered in the workplace or during a terrorist attack. The program has evolved over the years to incorporate a broad range of studies of how chemicals seep through barrier materials, leak through small holes, or change the barrier material to reduce its protection.
In addition to field surveys of chemical protective clothing (CPC) performance, studies continue to examine ways to detect when chemicals have gotten inside CPC, and how to effectively remove chemicals from protective clothing after it has been contaminated. Future efforts will incorporate advanced protective clothing technologies into fully-integrated, intelligent ensembles for fire fighters and emergency first responders.
Types of Protective Clothing
- Fully encapsulating suit, one-piece garment - Boots and gloves may be integral, attached and replaceable, or separate - Protects against splashes, dust gases, and vapors. Does not allow body heat to escape. May contribute to heat stress in wearer, particularly if worn in conjunction with a closed-circuit SCBA; a cooling garment may be needed. Impairs worker mobility, vision, and communication.
- Nonencapsulating suit - Jacket, hood, pants or bib overalls, and one-piece coveralls - Protects against splashes, dust, and other materials but not against gases and vapors. Does not protect parts of head or neck. Cannot be used where gas-tight or pervasive splashing protection is required. May contribute to heat stress in wearer. Tape-seal connections between pant cuffs and boots and between gloves and sleeves.
- Aprons, leggings, and sleeve protectors - Fully sleeved and gloved apron. Separate coverings for arms and legs. Commonly worn over nonencapsulating suit - Provides additional splash protection of chest, forearms, and legs. Whenever possible, should be used over a nonencapsulating suit to minimize potential heat stress. Useful for sampling, labeling, and analysis operations. Should be used only when there is a low probability of total body contact with contaminants.
- Firefighters' protective clothing - Gloves, helmet, running or bunker coat, running or bunker pants (NFPA No. 1971, 1972, 1973, and boots (1974). Protects against heat, hot water, and some particles. Does not protect against gases and vapors, or chemical permeation or degradation. NFPA Standard No. 1971 specifies that a garment consists of an outer shell, an inner liner and a vapor barrier with a minimum water penetration of 25 lb/in2 (1.8 kg/cm2) to prevent passage of hot water. Decontamination is difficult. Should not be worn in areas where protection against gases, vapors, chemical splashes or permeation is required
- Proximity garment (approach suit) - One- or two-piece overgarment with boot covers, gloves, and hood of aluminized nylon or cotton fabric. Normally worn over other protective clothing, firefighters' bunker gear, or flame-retardant coveralls. Protects against splashes, dust, gases, and vapors. Does not allow body heat to escape. May contribute to heat stress in wearer, particularly if worn in conjunction with a closed-circuit SCBA; a cooling garment may be needed. Impairs worker mobility, vision, and communication.
- Blast and fragmentation suit - Blast and fragmentation vests and clothing, bomb blankets, and bomb carriers. Provides some protection against very small detonations. Bomb blankets and baskets can help redirect a blast. Does not provide for hearing protection.
- Radiation-contamination protective suit - Various types of protective clothing designed to prevent contamination of the body by radioactive particles. Protects against alpha and beta particles. Does not protect against gamma radiation. Designed to prevent skin contamination. If radiation is detected on site, consult an experienced radiation expert and evacuate personnel until the radiation hazard has been evaluated.
- Flame/fire retardant coveralls - Normally worn as an undergarment. Provides protection from flash fires. Adds bulk and may exacerbate heat stress problems and impair mobility
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