Protecting yourself and your employees from contact with harmful substances is of vital importance when working with any kind of hazardous materials.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupation Health & Safety Act (OSHA) dictate that when one is dealing with hazardous waste firsthand, it is necessary to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

How much or how little PPE is needed can vary on the situation and type of chemicals that you may be handling with, but may include protective eyewear, hard hats, chemical resistant gloves and boots, respirators, or even a full pressurized body suit.

According to these agencies, before attempting to work with hazardous substances, a thorough inspection of all current PPE is good procedure for all employees who manage hazardous to follow. Particularly, make sure to check for rips, tears, punctures, or cuts in any of the equipment.

The EPA outlines four levels of proper PPE-wear depending on the nature and type of hazardous waste that is being dealt with, from first-line responders and large-scale hazardous waste emergencies to cleaning up errant waste around the office or plant.

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Level A Protection

Level A is the highest grade and is necessary when the greatest risk of exposure in general exists, but specifically, to the skin, respiratory tract, and eyes.

Directly according to the EPA, Level A protection includes:

  • A positive pressure, full face-piece self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or positive pressure supplied air respirator with escape SCBA;
  • a full vapor and chemical protective suit, completely encapsulated;
  • chemical-resistant gloves (inner and outer); and
  • disposable outer protective suit, gloves, and boots.

Level B Protection

This level would be most useful at an abandoned hazardous waste site, where vapors and gases haven’t reached concentrations high enough to warrant level A protection. Level B protection can include:

  • A positive pressure, full face-piece self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or positive pressure supplied air respirator with escape SCBA;
  • face shield/splash guard;
  • chemical-resistant gloves (inner and outer);
  • coveralls;
  • hooded chemical resistant clothing; and
  • outer chemical-resistant boots.

Level C Protection

The third level is required when dealing with airborne substances and the level or concentration of the toxin(s) is known. Usual Level C equipment includes:

  • full-face air purifying respirator;
  • escape mask;
  • hard hat;
  • chemical-resistant gloves (inner and outer); and
  • disposable, chemical-resistant outer boots.

Level D Protection

Level D is the of minimum of required protection and may be sufficient when no known contaminants are present or when usual work procedures do not include the possibility of splashes, inhalation, or contact with hazardous levels of chemicals. Appropriate to Level D protective equipment are:

  • safety goggles;
  • face shield/splash guard;
  • gloves;
  • coveralls; and
  • steel-toe and chemical-resistant boots.

After handling toxic waste, it is best to subject all equipment that has been in contact with any toxic materials to a full decontamination. This is especially crucial for personal protective equipment, which may be worn daily by those whose job is to handle hazardous waste. As when these toxic chemicals permeate the equipment, they render the special body-wear no more safe than the chemicals themselves.

Different types of contaminants may require specific methods of decontamination. For instance, if dealing with volatile liquids, the best method for decontamination is evaporation, aided by steam jets, followed by a water rinse, while adhering contaminants might be better removed by scraping, wiping or freezing with dry ice.

If the contaminant cannot be removed from the PPE, the equipment is then regulated under the contained-in policy and must be treated under land disposal restrictions as hazardous waste.

As you can see, this is all serious business and should not be neglected, so you would like additional information regarding PPE, you can reach one of our hazardous waste specialists by calling (800) 936-2311.

Photo credit: Dan Machold at compfight