Chemicals are a part of modern life. They’re used in everything from the food we eat to the chairs we sit on and cars we drive. In fact, without modern chemistry, the world would be a radically different place.
For the most part, the chemicals we encounter on a daily basis are harmless and cause no problems either to our lungs or skin. However, this might not be the case during the manufacturing process. Similarly, there are numerous chemicals used as bonding agents or sealants in small doses that can be harmful in larger volumes, or that produce harmful fumes during reactions.
For those that work with chemicals on a daily basis, the risks of injury and illness due to single incidents are greater. However, it is also the risks of long-term exposure that can be very high when working with certain chemicals.
As well as the mouth and the nose, one of the key parts of the body we need to protect when working with chemicals is the skin. Dangerous substances can seep into the skin and into the blood stream, causing long term and chronic conditions. That’s not to mention the immediate threat to the skin itself.
There is certain terminology used when referring to the risks posed by certain chemicals. For instance, the permeation rate is the speed at which a chemical can work its way through a material. The penetration rate is slightly different, in that it refers to time it takes to pass through seams and pinholes. The breakthrough time and degradation refer to the overall time a chemical takes to deteriorate substances it comes into contact with.
Therefore, when working with chemicals, it is essential to understand the physical properties of both it and the PPE you are using to protect yourself. The wrong material might offer little or no protection against some nasty chemicals, leaving your skin exposed.
How to choose protection
As well as choosing protection that is made from a suitable material, you need to ensure it also meets the specific task at hand. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and don’t use equipment that is not specifically designed for certain tasks. You should also be aware that some materials can cause an allergic reaction, including latex.
You need to make sure that gloves, goggles and protective suits fit correctly and don’t have gaps in join areas where chemicals can penetrate. Never use equipment that is torn or otherwise damaged as the integrity may be compromised. It might be necessary to test all rubber or synthetic gloves by inflating them before use. This way you can be sure they are airtight.
The correct way of putting on gloves and equipment is also very important to understand. Remember that some external surfaces may have been exposed to the chemicals you are trying to protect against, so the correct application is essential.
Remember that at all times it is your employer’s responsibility to ensure you have the correct equipment and that it is in good working order, if you are unsure that this is the case or feel the equipment is not adequate for your protection then stop what you are doing and speak to your health and safety representative. The consequences to your skin and overall health are never worth the risk.