Chemical suits are meant to control the number of hazard workers are exposed to when in the presence of toxic liquids, vapors, or dust. Each chemical hazard is assessed for the type and concentration of chemicals present in that environment, and each chemical suit must also be assessed to determine if it still qualifies as an effective personal protective garment.
The first point of reference to determine how long chemical suits last is to check the manufacturer's data for listed shelf life for your chemical suits that are stored properly. But once your chemical suits enter a contaminated area, they are exposed to chemicals that work to degrade, permeate, and breakthrough the seams, the fabric, valves, zippers, visors, and any built-in components that interface with the suit.
To truly determine if a reusable, chemical suit is still functional after being put in service, a visual inspection, and a pressure test would be necessary. But even for chemical suits that have not been exposed to a hazardous environment, there is a manufacturer's recommended shelf life and a predetermined life cycle for chemical suits that are stored and those that have been used but are not contaminated. Before any chemical suit is used, a hazard assessment of the environment should be conducted to determine what chemicals are present and in what physical forms and concentrations.
What is a Chemical Hazards Assessment?
A workplace chemical assessment is done to determine which chemicals workers are likely to be exposed to, all possible routes of entry (inhalation, ingestion, skin contact), along with the concentration levels and physical form of the chemicals (powder, liquid, gaseous). A facility safety team is tasked with not only knowing the physical and chemical properties of all hazardous material on-site, but also how those chemicals behave when mixed with other substances, when exposed to different temperatures, and how they may change form in certain environments.
OSHA dictates the chemical hazards assessment procedures for places of employment that expose workers to chemical or physical hazards. These companies must perform regular physical and chemical hazards assessments to determine the following Chemical Exposure Health Data:
- Identify chemical Hazards –review of chemical safety data sheets (SDS) and product labels to determine what chemicals are present in your workplace, especially those that have a low exposure limit, are highly volatile or are used in large quantities or in unventilated spaces.
- Conduct Quantitative Exposure Assessments –when possible, using air sampling or direct reading instruments to determine chemical concentration levels. An environmental analysis can also be accomplished by taking breathing zone samples, samples of the bulk raw material, or a 'worse case' sample from surfaces within a worker's area.
With this knowledge, the proper chemical suits and other PPE can be assigned to workers in areas where chemicals may pose a hazard. In addition to personal protective garments such as chemical suits, eye and face protection, and gloves - high performing ventilation systems, an appropriate evacuation plan, and a detailed chemical spill clean-up procedure may be required.
Once you have assessed the chemicals that pose a health risk to workers, the level of chemical suit protection can be determined along with specific activity information such as the splash pressure from liquid sprays that may exit equipment, hoses, or tanks. The direction of chemical splash and the length of time workers are exposed to a chemical spray under pressure are all factors in a chemical hazards assessment and when determining which chemical suits are appropriate for use.
The Shelf Life of Chemical Suits
The shelf life of a chemical suit should be quoted within the product's packaging or instructional material. Most manufacturers will suggest a shelf life of 10 years for chemical suits that are unopened and stored properly. After this time, the protective performance of the fabric and seams may have degraded and the effectiveness of the entire ensemble may be reduced.
Chemical suits are coated with a polymer resin and some are spun with polyethylene material while some PPE equipment will contain rubber. The design parameters for chemical suits are exact for the types and amounts of chemical exposure they can withstand. Once a chemical suit has sat on the shelf for a long period of time, a natural degradation process will cause a change in these engineered garments - the material may swell, seams may loosen, threads may become brittle or the entire suit may lose a portion of its weight due to natural disintegration processes.
To stay safe, always discard chemical suits that have reached the manufacturer's stated shelf life!
The Usable Life Cycle of Chemical Suits
How long any chemical suit will last depends on whether it has been contaminated. If a chemical barrier fabric has been exposed to chemical drip, splash, light spray, or pressurized spray, the worker should remove the chemical suit, it should be deemed 'out of service', and disposed of properly.
When the chemical suit is a single-use, disposable garment, then it is intended to be worn one-time - with or without incident. Disposable chemical suits and limited-use garments are not meant to altered or repaired. They must be discarded once they have been contaminated. But the benefit of supplying your employees with disposable chemical suits it that it will take the guesswork out of whether a protective garment is still effective or not.
A good rule-of-thumb for all employees that wear a disposable chemical suit to follow is any trip to the bathroom, the break room, or any time you get out of the suit, the worker should remove the chemical suit and don a clean, unused disposable, chemical PPE garment.
A reusable chemical suit can be worn multiple times. After any chemical exposure, they must be completely decontaminated, visually inspected, and they may need to be re-tested for leaks while under pressure. Keep in mind, a visual inspection may not be sufficient to validate whether the barrier performance of the fabric has not compromised or if the entire ensemble's ability to protect and has not diminished. The disadvantage of these types of chemical suits is they require a large financial investment, but as long as they have not been altered, damaged, or irreparably contaminated they can be worn multiple times.
When you need disposable chemical suits with a long shelf life to protect your team while keeping them safe, visit us at International Enviroguard today! We provide multiple chemical splash protection options to guard against industrial chemicals, stronger acids, and caustics, or blood-borne pathogens