Chapter 13: Personal Protective Equipment

Revised January 2023

Use of Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used to supplement engineering controls (such as laboratory ventilation and laser interlocks) and good work practices, and is an important component of laboratory safety. When properly selected and used, personal protective equipment is effective in minimizing exposure to multiple hazards. Personal protective equipment should always be inspected prior to use, and must not be used if found to be defective.

Eye Protection

  • Eye protection (safety glasses or goggles) should be worn at all times in the laboratory, even if you are not currently involved in any “hands on” work. Eye protection must be worn by all personnel in close proximity of chemical work (chemicals in use, chemical reactions, chemical waste handling, etc.).
  • Normal prescription glasses or sunglasses do not qualify as safety eyewear. Acceptable safety eyewear must meet the requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) code Z87.1 (“Z87” will be imprinted or labeled on the eyewear).
    • Safety glasses require side shields.
  • Chemical splash goggles with indirect venting should be worn when there is a likelihood of chemical splash or spray, explosion/implosion, or other significant eye hazards.
  • A face shield should be worn over safety eyewear when working with large quantities of highly corrosive chemicals, operations significantly above or below ambient pressure, or other high risk operations.

Contact Lenses

Historically the wearing of contact lenses has not been allowed in the laboratory since it was believed that contact lenses would exacerbate damage to the eye caused by chemical contact. This policy has been revisited and most experts now agree that contact lenses do not increase the risk of eye damage when handling chemicals. More information on wearing contact lenses in the laboratory is available in the 2005 NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin, Contact Lens Use in a Chemical Environment.

Contact lenses can be worn by laboratory workers under the following circumstances:

  • It is recommended that the laboratory supervisor and other laboratory personnel be notified when contact lenses will be worn in the laboratory.
  • Protective eyewear that is appropriate for the hazard is worn. Contact lenses do not provide adequate protection and are not considered protective equipment.
  • Contact lenses are removed at the first sign of eye redness or irritation thought to be associated with the laboratory environment. An optometrist or ophthalmologist should be consulted regarding continued use of contact lenses in the laboratory.

Hand Protection

There are a variety of glove materials available; however, no one glove material is resistant to permeation by all chemicals. When significant chemical contact (significant because of toxicity, corrosivity, chemical volume or contact time) is expected, specific chemical resistant gloves should be selected based on their resistance to the chemicals in use.

General Use Guidelines

  • Gloves should be inspected prior to use and discarded if there are signs of degradation, tears, punctures, or swelling.
    • Gloves can be tested for leaks by inflating the glove with air (do not inflate by mouth).
  • Always remove gloves when leaving a chemical, biological, or radiological use area to avoid spreading contamination.
    • Do not spread chemical contamination by handling common items such as books, phones, and doorknobs.

Disposable Gloves

Disposable (thin) latex gloves are often worn in the laboratory because they provide excellent dexterity and they are inexpensive. These gloves provide protection against dry chemicals but they do not provide adequate protection against the strong acids and bases, and organic solvents commonly used in laboratories. Disposable nitrile and chloroprene gloves provide better chemical resistance than do disposable latex gloves, and are recommended for general laboratory work where significant chemical contact is not expected (available through the University Chemical Stores, and most laboratory safety supply vendors). Regardless of the glove material, disposable gloves only provide protection against incidental chemical contact (occasional splash or spray). If contact with a chemical of concern occurs, the gloves should be removed immediately, hands washed, and new gloves obtained.

Chemical Resistant Gloves

Thicker, chemical resistant gloves should be worn when skin contact with corrosive or highly toxic chemicals is likely. When working with highly toxic chemicals, especially those that are absorbed through the skin, wear chemical resistant gloves made of material known to be resistant to permeation by the specific chemical. If chemical resistant gloves are reused, they should be thoroughly rinsed with clean water after each use and allowed to air dry.

Choosing Chemical Resistant Gloves

The following table provides general recommendations for several chemical resistant glove materials.
Glove Material Generally Recommended For Not Recommended For
Butyl Rubber Acids, bases, ketones, esters, alcohols, and aldehydes Aliphatic, aromatic, and halogenated hydrocarbons
4H/Silver Shield (North Safety Products) Good resistance to many chemicals, including chlorinated solvents, hydrocarbons, and ketones No specific guidance; consult Honeywell/North Safety Products
Natural (Latex) Rubber Alcohols, caustics, ketones, and many acids Aromatics, and hydrocarbons (especially halogenated or aromatic)
Neoprene Organic acids, caustics, alcohols, ketones, and petroleum hydrocarbons Aromatic and halogenated hydrocarbons
Nitrile Many acids, caustics, alcohols, and hydrocarbons Ketones, halogenated hydrocarbons, and strong acids
Polyvinyl Alcohol Most organic solvents, including aromatic, halogenated, and petroleum solvents Inorganic acids, caustics, alcohols, and other aqueous or polar liquids
Viton Halogenated and aromatic organic solvents Ketones, ethers, amines, and aldehydes

EH&S has also compiled a list of recommended glove types for several specific laboratory chemicals to assist laboratory workers in identifying the proper glove for their application. EH&S has more detailed information on the chemical resistance and permeation of many glove materials, and laboratory workers should contact the University CHO for specific guidance. Lastly, additional information on recommended chemical resistant gloves is available from glove manufacturers.

Body Protection

Laboratory workers are expected to always wear a long sleeved (with sleeves rolled down), buttoned lab coat that extends below their mid-thigh when handling hazardous chemicals. It is strongly recommended that all laboratory workers wear clothing that fully covers their legs; however, tight fitting leggings are not recommended.

Cotton lab coats are recommended for general laboratory work. The best lab coat material for a specific application can depend on the anticipated hazards. Although cotton lab coats are recommended for general laboratory use, cotton reacts rapidly with acids. Synthetic materials often provide increased chemical resistance but may melt or decompose when exposed to fire or certain chemicals and adhere to skin, increasing damage, but are more resistant to concentrated acids than is cotton. Alternatively, rubberized aprons and chemical resistant sleeves can be used over cotton lab coats when working with concentrated acids or other highly corrosive chemicals.

When working with larger quantities of flammable materials or any quantity of pyrophoric chemicals, a fire resistant lab coat should be worn (also see the section on pyrophoric chemicals in Chapter 5). Additionally, personal clothing composed of synthetic material that is likely to melt and adhere to skin if exposed to fire should not be worn.

Non-disposable lab coats must be laundered on a regular basis, with transport in sealed plastic bags. Lab coats should not be laundered at home but should be laundered using a university washing machine or commercial laundry service.

Foot Protection

Laboratory workers should always wear low-heeled shoes with fully covering “uppers.” Shoes with open toes or with uppers constructed of woven material are not recommended.

Respiratory Protection

Respiratory protection is not normally required during laboratory operations if the work is performed in a properly functioning laboratory hood. Operations involving highly volatile chemicals, large volumes of chemicals, chemicals with low exposure limits (such as less than 10 ppm), or operations that cannot be performed in a hood, may require the use of respiratory protection. Contact the Chemical Hygiene Officer regarding respirator use and approval.

Required Use of Respiratory Protection

Prior approval from EH&S is required whenever personnel are required to wear any respirator (including N95 dust masks/filtering face piece respirators) to prevent exposure to recognized health risks, or when required by regulation or administrative procedure. In these circumstances, all personnel must be medically evaluated, fit-tested, and trained prior to using respiratory protection.

Voluntary Use of Respirators

Some personnel may want to voluntarily wear a dust mask (filtering face piece respirator) or other respirator in the absence of a recognized inhalation risk, regulatory requirement, or administrative requirement. In these circumstances, personnel are permitted to voluntary wear a respirator; however, certain requirements must still be met so EH&S must be contacted prior to voluntary use of respirators.

Voluntary use of N-95 dust masks/filtering face piece respirators requires only that specific information contained in the applicable OSHA standard ( 29 CFR 1910.134, Appendix D) be provided to each person. To meet this requirement, each person who plans on wearing a respirator voluntarily must complete the Voluntary Use of Air Purifying Respirators form and send the completed form to the Chemical Hygiene Officer. As a reminder, dust masks/filtering face piece respirators are particulate filters and therefore are only effective against particles; they do not provide protection from inhalation of gasses or vapors.

Voluntary use of any respirator other than N95 dust masks/filtering face piece respirators requires that each person be medically evaluated, fit-tested, and trained prior to respirator use. Contact the University Chemical Hygiene Officer at 327-5196 for more information.

Additional Information on Respirators and Regulatory Requirements

Personal Protective Equipment Use Summary

The following table provides a hazard assessment summary and corresponding PPE recommendations for general laboratory operations. In some instances, the following PPE recommendations may be inappropriate due to factors such as chemical quantity used, specific chemical toxicological factors, and other variables. These recommendations may be modified (either up or down) following an assessment of the risk associated with the specific procedure and the approval of the responsible laboratory supervisor. Such laboratory-specific guidance should be documented in written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and included in laboratory-specific training.

In all cases, the specific risks associated with particular procedures should be evaluated and PPE selected based on this risk assessment.
Hazard Recommended Eye Protection Equipment Recommended Face Protection Equipment Recommended Hand/Body Equipment
Any use of chemicals Safety glasses Not necessary unless noted below Lab coat
Use of corrosives (other than hydrofluoric acid), strong oxidizers

Chemical splash goggles

Dilute Solutions (<1 n) safety glasses or goggles

Full face shield and goggles for large liquid volumes (≥ 4 L) Chemical resistant gloves and lab coat, with rubber apron suggested for high risk procedures. For small volumes (< 250 ml) or dilute solutions (< 1 N): Disposable gloves, lab coat.
Hydrofluoric Acid

Chemical splash goggles

Full face shield and goggles for solutions greater than 2% Chemical resistant gloves (butyl or neoprene) and lab coat, with rubber apron recommended (with chemical resistant sleeve protectors recommended). For solutions less than 2%: chemical resistant gloves and lab coat (rubber apron recommended)
Use of carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and other highly toxic compounds Chemical splash goggles Full face shield and goggles for large liquid volumes (≥ 4 L) Chemical resistant gloves and lab coat, with rubber apron suggested for large liquid volumes.
Cryogenic Liquids Chemical splash goggles Full face shield and goggles when pouring or other transfers Lab coat, cryogenic gloves or other insulated gloves that provide cold protection
Sharp objects (glass, etc.), insertion of glass rods into stoppers Safety glasses Not Necessary Heavy cloth barrier or leather gloves, handle broken glass with tongs
Pressure extremes (high pressure or vacuum systems) Chemical splash goggles Full face shield and goggles Lab coat, with rubber apron suggested if chemical splash is possible

Chapter 14: Eyewash Fountains and Safety Showers