Hazardous chemicals - personal protective equipment (PPE)
This information bulletin outlines several duties and some simple safety guidelines regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) for those working with hazardous chemicals.
There are a number of ways to control the risks associated with hazardous chemicals. Some control measures are more effective than others. Control measures can be ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control.
You must always aim to eliminate a hazard and associated risk first. If this is not reasonably practicable, the risk must be minimised by using one or more of the following approaches:
- Implementing engineering controls.
If a risk then remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls, so far as is reasonably practicable. Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable PPE.
Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision and when used on their own, tend to be the least effective way of minimising risks.
If PPE is to be used at the workplace, the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure that the equipment is:
- selected to minimise risk to health and safety
- suitable for the nature of the work and any hazard associated with the work
- a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable for the person wearing it
- maintained, repaired or replaced so it continues to minimise the risk
- used or worn by the worker, so far as is reasonably practicable.
A worker must, so far as reasonably able, wear the PPE in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction.
In most circumstances, PPE should not be relied on to control risk. It should be used only as a last resort when all other reasonably practicable control measures have been used and the risk has not been eliminated, or as interim protection until higher level controls are implemented. There may also be situations when the use of other controls is not practicable.
PPE includes overalls, aprons, footwear, gloves, chemical resistant glasses, face shields and respirators.
For some high risk activities, such as spray painting, abrasive blasting and some emergency response actions, PPE should always be used to supplement higher level control measures.
The effectiveness of PPE relies heavily on workers following instructions and procedures correctly. If PPE must be used for long periods, if dexterity and clear vision are needed for the task, or if workers have not been adequately trained on how to fit and use PPE properly, workers might avoid using it.
The best way to determine this is to observe workers performing the task. If they discard the PPE or do not use it, this may indicate that it does not fit, is uncomfortable or is a hindrance in the work. You should also observe workers after the task is complete to ensure that the PPE they have used is stored and maintained correctly.
PPE must be suitable for the task being performed.
- Choosing appropriate chemical-resistant gloves offering the best resistance to the chemical being used. Some gloves may be resistant to some solvents but not others.
- Using full-face, air-fed respirator rather than a half-face respirator during spray-painting operations to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals like isocyanates, which can cause skin and respiratory allergic reactions.
- Preparation of safety data sheets (SDS) for hazardous chemicals