Your Guide to Protective Clothing in the Workplace

It’s not always so easy to determine which type of protective clothing employees should be equipped with when performing their job function. Below, we’ve detailed OSHA’s PPE guidelines, what to know about certain types of clothing and fabrics, what to consider when selecting PPE for your unique application, and more.

The Law

OSHA 1910.132

This law requires that an employer shall assess their workplace to determine the hazards present and which personal protective equipment is required.

The Essentials

Considerations for Disposable Coveralls

Polypropylene is softer, absorbs some sweat, and is normally much more breathable than polyethylene (Tyvek) and the microporous fabrics (such as NexGen or house brand coveralls.
Polyethylene coated, polyolefin, and microporous fabrics are far more commonly used in these environments, due to their ability to keep even the finest of dust from penetrating the disposable clothing.
The Kleenguard Ultra and Tyvek can first be considered for light splashes, especially if heat stress is a concern. The Kleenguard Ultra is commonly promoted for use around pressure washers. For more serious protection and concerns of leaking at the seams, it would make sense to consider stepping up to a coated fabric.
The only disposable suit we have available for such an application is the Pyrolon Plus 2 Limited Use FR Clothing. It will not melt like the plastic-type garments. Pyrolon is actually made out of wood pulp and then sprayed with a flame-retardant coating.
We normally recommend one size larger than what the charts indicate. If you order the same size as your street clothes, the suit will normally fit too tight. Also be sure to account for wearing heavier clothes and work activities when reviewing the sizes.

Types of Fabrics

Polypropylene

The standard fabric for basic protective apparel formed by bonding fibers together to become a single layer of breathable, woven-like material. Its main advantages are economy, comfort, and breathability. It also provides light, non-toxic fluid protection.
A three-ply material consisting of one layer of meltblown polypropylene bonded between two layers of spunbond polypropylene. Soft, fluid-repellent, anti-static, and breathable, SMS provides an optimal mix of protection and comfort. Appropriate for extended-wear situations involving low to moderate non-toxic fluid contact.
Created when soft, spunbond polypropylene is coated with a layer of impervious polyethylene. This lightweight material is ideal for many situations demanding a higher level of splash protection.

Polyethylene

Impervious to moderate non-toxic fluid contact, polyethylene apparel provides excellent dry particle, and aerosol protection at an affordable cost. Unlike polypropylene, it resembles plastic more than cloth and has minimal breathability, but is very durable.
More specifically, this pertains to Tychem QC clothing. This is when regular Tyvek is coated with a layer of impervious polyethylene. That’s right—polyethylene on polyethylene. Think of Tyvek as millions of thin, short strands of polyethylene layered and bonded in all directions on top of each other. When they coat this Tyvek material with polyethylene, think of the coating as a thin film of melted plastic that keeps chemical splashes from leaking through the Tyvek.
Direct Safety® brand polyolefin coveralls are made with a soft and breathable microporous fabric that is an economical alternative to Tyvek. This limited-use clothing is suitable for jobs such as food processing, paint spraying/finishing operations, asbestos and mold abatement, fiberglass work, and general maintenance.

Flame-Retardant (FR) Fabric

This is a limited use FR coverall made of wood pulp that has been chemically treated to self-extinguish flames when exposed. Since the other disposable suits are made of a type of plastic, those suits would melt and cause severe burns to a worker exposed to flames.
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Hairnets

Hairnets are required in most food processing facilities and other clean room work scenarios where hair control is critical.

Hairnet Sizing

  • Size of hairnet is the outer circumference when hairnet is laid flat on table
  • Regardless of the hairnet size, the elastic is the same circumference within the same brand
  • You should order a larger size based on length of hair, not size of head:
  • Short Hair – Use size 18” or 19” hairnet
  • Long, Thick Hair – Use various sizes up to 28” or larger
  • Imported listings are less expensive, but come packaged in bags; domestic hairnets are usually packaged in dispenser boxes

Types of Fabrics

Chemical Resistant

  • Made of polypropylene
  • Least expensive material
  • Best hair control and keeps most particulates out of hair during certain processes
  • Warmest of the hairnets, but still breathes
  • Various colors are available to distinguish visitors from employees and to designate between departments
  • Most expensive material
  • Durable and comfortable
  • Excellent hair control
  • Second warmest of the hairnets
  • Beehive grid pattern
  • Breathable with good hair control
  • Most breathable
  • Individually wrapped in tissue paper
  • Poorest hair control, may not even be allowed in certain work environments
  • Blends in well with hair color due to the fineness of the netting
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Aprons/Sleeves

While aprons and sleeves offer limited protection to specific areas of the body, they can be more comfortable than wearing full coveralls for protection from splashes.

Types of Fabrics

Chemical Resistant

  • Disposable and low cost
  • Majority of use is in food processing
  • Thickness from 1-2 mils available
  • Smooth or embossed finish, embossing adds to durability and reduces static cling
  • Economical, heavy-duty protection
  • Use glove charts to check chemical compatibility
  • Varying thicknesses and formulation of plastic
  • VR apron is a high-end, long-wearing vinyl material
  • Lightweight, excellent chemical protection
  • Nylon scrim is flexible, yet strengthens apron to prevent tearing
  • Moderate chemical resistance
  • Excellent abrasion and tear resistance
  • Use glove charts to check chemical compatibility
  • Broad spectrum chemical resistance
  • Added protection from snags and punctures
  • Broad spectrum chemical resistance
  • Ideal for grease and animal fats in cold conditions
  • Polyester scrim adds good cut and abrasion protection
  • Highest chemical resistant apron/sleeves offered
  • Material can tear easily and feels like crinkly plastic
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Rainwear

Rainwear Basics

  • The term “three-piece suit” implies bib overalls, a jacket, and a detachable hood
  • The thickness of the suits coating is measured either by the term mil (1/1,000 of an inch) or mm (millimeters)
  • The thinner the coating, the more light and flexible the suit; however, you do suffer in abrasion resistance and longevity of the material
  • Remember that many rainsuits are not used for rain, but chemical protection, so it is important to match up the coating material with the chemical being used

Substrate/Fabric

Substrate is a term used for the fabric that the waterproof coating is attached to which gives the suit its strength, durability, and cut resistance.

  • If coated only on the outside, the rainsuit is referred to as fabric lined. This may be for comfort against the skin and sweat absorption.
  • If coated on both sides or double-coated, then the fabric is referred to as a scrim.
  • We sell one style of a 3-piece rainsuit and rain poncho without a fabric substrate, they are very economical and considered disposable.
  • The most common and least expensive of the substrates
  • Durable and effective
  • Generally viewed as a nicer substrate
  • More expensive
  • Very flexible and lightweight
  • Excellent cut and snag resistance
  • Lightweight, excellent chemical protection
  • Nylon scrim is flexible, yet strengthens apron to prevent tearing

Types of Coating

The coating of a rainsuit determines the chemical resistance, flexibility, and durability.

  • By far the most common coating used on rainsuits
  • Economical and effective for a wide range of chemicals
  • More chemical resistant than PVC
  • Flexible and lightweight coating
  • Stays flexible in cold weather
  • Long wearing
  • Excellent chemical resistance in petrochemical environments
  • Stays flexible in cold and heat
  • View chemical resistant charts when ordering
  • Acid and mildew resistant
  • Excellent abrasion resistance
  • Heavy coating on cotton fabric base is very durable
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Flame Resistant vs. Fire Retardant

Did you know that the terms “flame resistant” and “fire retardant” have significantly different meanings?

First, let’s make things a little simpler by throwing out the words “flame” and “fire” as these are interchangeable. Now let’s look at the two more significant terms of “resistant” and “retardant.”

Resistant (Flame/Fire)

This term covers those materials that are inherently resistant to catching on fire and are self-extinguishing. These materials do not melt or drip when directly exposed to extreme heat. The flame/fire resistant protection does not wash out over time.

Note: In an arc flash scenario, you will want to use flame resistant products and not flame retardant. Products approved for arc flash will always have a calorie rating right on the label (i.e. 4.5 cal).

Retardant (Flame/Fire)

This term covers those materials that have been chemically treated to self-extinguish and without that chemical treatment would not be flame/fire retardant. The flame/fire retardant protection will wash out over time.

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Foot Protection

Foot protection is another important component of your safety program. Learn more about foot protection guidelines by downloading our FREE Foot Protection Ready Reference.

Downlaod Ready Reference

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