Many industries require that employees must wear disposable protective clothing. For many jobs, protective clothing is a worker's first line of defense against chemical spills, liquid splash, biological contaminants, hot working surfaces, toxic airborne particulates, and for outdoor workers to protect their personal clothing from damage and dirt. And when you consider how many manufacturing and process industries that must minimize contamination of products originating from the worker - there is another large set of industries that rely on the right personal protection equipment (PPE) to maintain a quality controlled environment. The food and beverage industry, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceuticals processing, and many electronic consumer factories require uniformed workers to minimize cross-contamination.

Protective garments are not fail-safe. There are some key considerations that can put a garment out of service. Even when PPE clothing has not been worn or damaged, it is advised to dispose of any protective clothing that has sat in storage or not used for 3-5 years (depending on environment and storage conditions). And prior to any employee donning a protective coverall, gown, gloves or other disposable PPE, the item should be inspected to make sure it is fit for duty. 

Here are some ways to store and prolong the life of your PPE to reduce contamination, damage, or deterioration caused by extreme environments.

How to Store Disposable Protective Clothing

Employers should not expect workers to be protected when a garment has been damaged, garments that are very old, or those that have been improperly stored. You may want to consider the potential liability or worker's compensation claims that can arise when businesses hand out disposable uniforms that put workers at risk of serious injury or illness. To get the best service from disposable PPE including coveralls and lab coats, disposable boot covers, and disposable hoods, here are some guidance on proper storage.

Store in a Clean Area, Free of Harmful Dust Free - Many types of PPE will be shipped in a carton, with each uniform individually packaged. This is mandatory for sterile protective clothing to be used in controlled environment. But, for other PPE shipments it will depend on the manufacturer or the type of protective product. Consider the general purpose assortment of coveralls, bouffants, beard restraints, and shoe covers that are used in food service and packaging industries to protect the worker from dirt and grime. Often these items are shipped in bulk, without individual wrapping.

Always leave PPE garments in their original cartons and/or individual packages until needed. They should be stored on a shelf to avoid damage from water leaks or compression damage that can occur when stepped on or rolled over by equipment. 

Avoid Any Possible Chemical Exposure - Both raw chemicals or end-product solutions are a source of incidental damage to disposable protective uniforms and coveralls. PPE outfits are manufactured from a wide range of engineered materials that must maintain their design specifications to be considered safe for individual use. Even the fumes from some chemicals can cause a rapid acceleration of the fibers deteriorating. Disposable PPE garments that have been comprised by toxic fumes may not be noticeable to the naked eye.

Avoid storing disposable PPE within the same are as chemical liquids, vapors, or gases. Keep in mind the many sources of chemicals that are not always thought about - batteries, cigarette smoke, and vehicle exhaust.

Protected from Penetration or Impact - Inform your workers that they have the right to reject any disposable PPE clothing that has a rip, hole, seam tear, or other damage from impact or penetration. A damaged uniform meant to protect employees should never be worn. 

When selecting a storage area for PPE shipments, only consider those rooms, closets, or shelves that are free from general pedestrian traffic and safe from material handling vehicles and operations. Shelf storage at a reasonable height is always recommended to prevent accidental puncture or impact.

Protected From Humidity and Water - If your operations are wet or create a high level of humidity (such industrial laundering facilities), then the PPE garments must be protected from direct water and moisture in the air. Select a room that is a controlled environment for these type of industries. In other production or processing facilities, consider all sources of humidity and water, such as windows, overhead pipes, HVAC equipment, and foundation or roofing failures.

Disposable PPE should  be stored in a water-resistant manner. This includes the original packaging and shipping cartons, a moisture-free environment, along with other measures to protect the garments from humidity and water.

Away from Direct Sunlight - UV protection is a crucial part of your storing employee protective clothing. The direct exposure of protective garments to sunlight and other sources of UV radiation. Again, engineered textiles should have minimum exposure to sunlight which not only causes fading, but also accelerates the deterioration of the fibers over time.

To avoid exposing PPE to direct sunlight choose a windowless storage area or keep the protective uniforms in corrugated boxes to extend their shelf life. But, it is best to use a storage area that does have air flow or some method of ventilation. Airtight containers are not advised for storing fiber PPE garments.

Store in a Temperature Regulated Area - Extremes in heat and cold should be avoided for the area where PPE garments are stored. While there is a large range of temperatures that can accommodate PPE storage - any area prone to freezing conditions or high heat should be avoided.

A temperature regulated area is recommended because these areas will also control the humidity levels. Air with a high moisture content can damage the boxes where uniforms are stored and eventually the protective garments will be negatively affected.

Label Cartons with Date of Storage - The best way to ensure your PPE shipments are within the usable dates as recommended by the manufacturer is to label cartons with the date they were received. If a shipping label with a date is adhered to the cartons, this can used as a tracking method to know when old, unused disposable PPE should be discarded.

Inspecting Disposable Protective Clothing

Multiple PPE garments may be needed to protect workers from exposure to toxic substances or other harmful physical agents. They should be inspected before each use for damage that could compromise safety. A visual inspection or damage or garment defects should be performed before protective items are put on. Also any garment that has been previously worn or is dirty should not be donned. Here are other tips for inspecting disposable garments and other PPE items.

  • Any PPE clothing that is discolored, frayed, torn, or has a hole in the fabric is not to be used.
  • If PPE is a sterile outfit, make sure packaging has not been previously opened.
  • Other PPE such as respirators that are dented, broken or bent should be discarded.
  • Inspect PPE garments for any signs of contamination which may show as a discoloration or a stain.
  • Check for manufacturer's defects such as broken zippers or buttons, open seams, or loose threads.
  • Inspect safety footwear before each use for cracks, separation of materials, and broken buckles or laces.
  • Discard any hard hats that show rough treatment such as dents, fatigue, or cracks.

Worker's should be informed of their responsibility and their right to inspect and reject a PPE that does not meet the right criteria. For a wide selection of durable, disposable, protective clothing for all operating environments, visit International Enviroguard today.