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Selecting Chemical Protective Clothing for Vapor and Splash Protection

Quick Tips #190

The use of chemical protective clothing (CPC) for vapor and splash protection is only one aspect of a comprehensive program for ensuring the safety and health of workers. Careful planning, work practices and engineering (isolation) and administrative (avoidance) controls should also be considered. In fact, they are required by OSHA under 29 CFR 1910.120 as a preliminary step in limiting worker exposures to hazards. If circumstances prohibit the use of engineering controls or work practices, or these measures do not sufficiently reduce worker exposures, OSHA mandates that personal protective equipment (PPE) be used.

Once the need for PPE is established, a careful evaluation of the hazards is necessary so that a selection can be made that minimizes the risk to the user. For chemical situations, knowing the hazard includes being aware of the type of chemical, the physical state (liquid, solid or gas) and the physiological effect (toxic, carcinogen, asphyxiant, corrosive, etc.). Knowing the level of exposure is also important when selecting protective clothing and equipment.

Protective Equipment Level of Risk

To help users choose a total PPE package, OSHA offers guidance on determining the four levels of chemical risks. These levels range from unknown or highly hazardous, which requires complete protection, to non-hazardous, which requires only basic work attire.

Level A protective equipment provides the highest level of skin and respiratory protection available. This type of protection must be gas-tight, vapor-tight and splash resistant. It is worn when there is a possible threat to life and health, such as during spill response and cleanup. The minimum Level A equipment consists of:

See Quick Tips #193: SCBA Information and Quick Tips #191: Chemical Resistant Gloves Guide for more information.

Level B protective equipment offers chemical splash protection, but does not prevent exposure to gases or vapors. As with Level A protective clothing, an SCBA is used for respiratory protection. The CPC may or may not be completely encapsulating, since a lower level of skin protection is required.

The minimum Level B equipment consists of:

  • Positive-pressure SCBA
  • Chemical-resistant suit
  • Chemical-resistant inner and outer gloves
  • Chemical-resistant boots with steel toe and shank

Level C protective equipment features the same type of clothing as Level B, but has a lower level of respiratory protection. An air-purifying respirator is used in place of an SCBA. This level is used when the chemicals are known and it has been established that an air-purifying respirator is appropriate protection for the hazard.

Level D protective equipment offers the lowest level of protection and is used when no potential or actual hazard exists. It consists of a normal work uniform (long sleeve coveralls, safety shoes, goggles, etc.), offering minimal protection for nuisance exposure. (See OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 Appendix B for specific information on the definition of protection levels.)

Chemical Protective Clothing Material Selection

After the appropriate level of PPE has been determined, the choice of chemical protective clothing material must be considered. Among the more important factors in selecting the appropriate chemical protective clothing are chemical resistance and suit design. The effectiveness of the chemical protective clothing to resist chemicals can be measured by permeation testing.

Permeation testing produces data on breakthrough time and permeation rate. Permeation is the process by which a chemical moves through a sample of protective clothing material on a molecular level. Permeation tests are conducted following the ASTM International (ASTM) F739 test method. The outside surface of a test material is subjected to a challenge chemical using the ASTM F739 test cell. Breakthrough to the inside surface of the material is determined by monitoring the collection side of the test cell and determining when the chemical has permeated.

Breakthrough time is the time it takes the test chemical to pass through the clothing sample until it is first detected by an analytical instrument.

Permeation rate is the speed at which the test chemical passes through the clothing sample once breakthrough has occurred.

The ASTM F739 method only tests a swatch of the actual chemical protective clothing fabric. This means that the potential for permeation through a zipper, seam, face shield, etc. is not determined.

Chemical resistance data is frequently published and available from many manufacturers and distributors. Unpublished data may be supplied by manufacturers upon request.

Suit design deals with how a garment is put together. Seams are an important aspect of suit design. Two pieces of material can be joined by stitching or welding. The stitching process can create pin holes that may allow penetration of chemicals. Welded seams involve cementing or welding tape over the stitched seam. The welded (sealed) seam offers a higher level of protection against exposure to contaminants.

NFPA Standards

Developments within the last few years have made the selection of chemical protective clothing easier for employers. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has devised performance manufacturing standards for chemical protective clothing.

NFPA 1991: Standard on Vapor-Protective Suits for Hazardous Chemical Emergencies, covers gas-tight suits. A suit meeting NFPA 1991 requirements is equal to the clothing required by EPA's Level A.

NFPA 1992: Standard on Liquid Splash-Protective Suits for Hazardous Chemical Emergencies covers splash-protective garments. Garments meeting NFPA 1992 requirements are equal to the clothing required in EPA's Level B.

NFPA developed these standards to provide users with information on suit integrity, resistance to chemicals and flame, durability, and function of components. Garments that meet the NFPA requirements are approved and marked with a Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) label.

Click here for more on NFPA standards.


29 CFR 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response

29 CFR 1910.120 Appendix B

DuPont information on Industry Methods, Standards & Regulations

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 272-0167

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
1 Batterymarch Park
Quincy, MA 02269
(617) 770-3000

ASTM International (ASTM)
100 Barr Harbor Drive
West Conshohocken, PA
(610) 832-9500

Safety Equipment Institute (SEI)
1307 Dolley Madison Boulevard Suite 3A
McLean VA 22101
(703) 442-5732

Anderson, K. J., and J. G. Johnson (eds.), Chemical Protective Clothing, Vol. 1, American Industrial Hygiene Association, Akron, OH, 1990.

"Focus On Protective Clothing," Applied Industrial Hygiene, 4 (1), January 1989, pp. R1–R5.

Forsberg, K.; and S. Z. Mansdorf, Quick Selection Guide To Chemical Protective Clothing, 3rd. ed., Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1997.

Roder, M. M., A Guide for Evaluating the Performance of Chemical Protective Clothing, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, 1990.

Sabatino, J., "Dress For The Party (Selection Of Personal Protective Equipment)," Environmental Waste Management Magazine, 8 (6), June 1990, pp. 8–10.

Say, D. J., "Chemical Protective Clothing: Still A Long Way To Go," Fire Engineering, 114 (8), August 1991, pp. 86–88, 90–92.

Schroll, R. C., "Emergency-Response CPC is Last Line of Defense," Safety & Protective Fabrics, 2 (2), May 1993, pp. 20–23.

"Selecting Personal Protective Equipment," Hazmat World, 4 (11), November 1991, pp. 62, 64.

Tompkins, N. C., "The Fit Of Chemical Protective Clothing Remains Flexible For Evolving Standards," Occupational Health & Safety, 56 (1), January 1994, pp. 46, 48–49.

(Rev. 5/2014)

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Please Note:
The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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