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September 18, 2006
When Is Full-Body Protection Needed?

Knights of old wore their armor to work. Today, when everyday clothes can't protect your employees from workplace hazards, they, too, might need body protection on the job. Some jobs require full-body protection, while others require only special protective clothing for the parts of the body exposed to possible injury. Examples of workplace hazards that might require some type of body protection include:

  • Extreme heat or cold
  • Splashes from molten metals or other hot liquids
  • Flames and sparks
  • Impact from equipment and materials
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Exposure to bloodborne pathogens
  • Exposure to radiation

The protection has to match the hazard. Examples of body protection include coveralls, splash suits, aprons, jackets, vests, lab coats and surgical gowns, and full-body suits. Body protection comes in a variety of different materials suitable for different kinds of hazards. For example, protective clothing may be made of:

  • Flame-resistant cotton or duck for moderate heat or sparks
  • Flame-retardant and heat-resistant synthetic fabrics for working around open flames and hot liquids
  • Tyvec® or NOMEX® suits for minimal chemical hazards
  • PVC, neoprene, rubber, and similar materials for more serious chemical hazards and bloodborne pathogens
  • Leather to protect against impact

Fully encapsulating suits made of neoprene or butyl rubber--complete with boots, hard hat, and an air supply--are generally required when employees face exposure to toxic vapors or gases. These suits must be completely sealed (including zippers and seams) so that they do not allow any penetration of toxic materials.

How to keep cool. Wearing body protection, particularly fully encapsulating suits, can be heavy, awkward, and hot. Your employees need to be trained to deal with that.

Why It Matters...
  • Body protection is an important part of your arsenal of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to shield employees from injury and illness.
  • Body protection is often the chief barrier between employees and serious, even life-threatening, workplace hazards.
  • As with other forms of PPE, training is required to make sure employees use body protection safely and effectively.

They must understand that they'll use more energy and oxygen while wearing this type of protective equipment and therefore can be more susceptible to heat stress and dehydration. Remember that when an employee is wearing protection that covers all or most of the body, normal circulation of air around the body is prevented, perspiration can't evaporate, and consequently, the body can't cool itself efficiently. That's why you need to carefully regulate and monitor work schedules of employees wearing body protection to provide adequate rest periods to cool down. Something as simple as placing a cool wet towel on the back of the neck can lower body temperature 2 or 3 degrees almost immediately. Also remind employees to drink plenty of water before starting a job that requires a lot of body protection. And for employees who wear fully encapsulating air-supplied suits, be sure to provide cooling units and ice packs.

Take the final step and ensure the effectiveness of body protection. When employees are required to wear body protection, make sure they:

  • Understand the hazards and how the clothing will protect them from exposure
  • Inspect body protection before each use.
  • Get a good fit to ensure full protection.
  • Wear the required protection the whole time they are at risk of exposure.
  • Remove protective clothing safely to prevent contamination.
  • Clean and maintain reusable equipment properly.
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