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3 Principles For Selecting Chemical Protective Clothing

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14 Mar 2023

When frontline workers are exposed to chemicals, they must wear the appropriate protective clothing for each application or task.  However, there are numerous criteria to consider when selecting protective clothing against hazardous chemicals in the workplace.  Due to a lack of safety knowledge and the sheer number of various chemicals to remember and of many similar products to choose and examine, the complexity may cause workers to choose inappropriate protective clothing.

It’s hard to simplify the selection procedure, but there are 3 principles you can follow, to ensure the proper protection level of the garment for any hazardous working situation.

1. Qualified Garments

First, make sure the PPE you use is a qualified product.  Protective clothing is one of the most crucial Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when handling dangerous chemicals.  There are many regulatory requirements defined by different countries.  Furthermore, some areas require the application of their specific standards or certifications.  Do not compromise your safety by using an unqualified PPE in a dangerous work environment.

The most followed regulation for protective clothing is the CE standard.  The CE standard has different requirements related to physical and chemical performance, including the fabric characteristics, joint part of clothing, repellency and penetration ability, and even the performance of the whole garment are covered.  The other standard also known for chemical protection by most countries in the world is ISO 16602, protective clothing for protection against chemicals.

Choosing a qualified product is all about assurance.  It assures that the clothing you are wearing has been confirmed to meet the minimum performance requirements outlined in product standards.

2. Chemical Risk Assessment

Some chemicals might only cause minor irritations.  But most of the chemicals we use for modern industrial processes can cause damage to your skin.  Choosing the proper protective clothing can be a choice of life or death.  That’s why the chemical risk assessment process matters.  It helps to identify the chemicals or combination of chemicals in a task or job requires.  This includes assessing the job for chemical exposures and then selecting the appropriate chemical protective clothing.

Here are the steps for risk assessment.  Firstly, knowing the working procedure and finding out what are the chemical hazards.  Before each task or job begin, it is always important to consult the Safety Data Sheet (SDS).  You can find the instructions on what PPE to wear and the CAS number (unique numerical identifier of chemical elements) of the chemicals.

Second, determine the process and the duration of the exposure.  Depending on the various tasks or manufacturing equipment used in different applications, the chemical may spill out in various ways, such as a pressurized jet, splash, or a part of the body directly soaking in chemicals.  Knowing these details allows you to choose the most suitable clothing design for you and the performance you need.

Third, select an appropriate design.  There is no such thing as a perfect design for protective clothing.  Every design has a weakness.  Instead, each manufacturer makes every effort to prevent leakage at the weak point through measures such as special fabric treatment, clothing pattern design, material improvement, or easy attachment/combination with other existing PPE.  As a result, there are many unique designs on chemical protective clothing, such as sealed seam joints to prevent leakage through seam holes, double storm flap and zipper closure solution to reduce zipper risk, back entry system to minimize frontal risk, or attach gloves on the sleeve to reduce wrist gap, etc.

Finally, select the appropriate protective clothing.  Consider the above points, select the appropriate classification for chemical protection.  Each regulation or standard may establish several classes to provide varying levels of protection.  For example, the CE regulation specifies five types of disposable coveralls for various hazardous situations, with Type 3 and higher levels providing better chemical resistance.

3. Permeation Data

When dealing with a chemically related work environment, the most important thing is that the fabric of protective clothing can prevent chemical permeation.  Permeation refers to the penetration of chemicals that sipped through the barrier and into contact with the wearer’s skin.  Breakthrough Time is the most important factor.Breakthrough time (BT) is defined as the elapsed time between the initial contact of a liquid chemical with the outside surface of the fabric and the time at which the permeation rate reaches a specific speed.  It depends on many factors such as:

  • Chemical barrier formulation

  • Fabric material thickness

  • The chemical concentration used

  • The number of chemicals that come into contact with

  • The time that the wearer is exposed to the chemical

  • The temperature at which

Most garment suppliers had tested the breakthrough time against various chemicals.  Before entering the workplace, workers should check permeation data to see if this garment can protect them from the specific chemical they are dealing with.

> 480 minutes           Excellent.  Recommended for all-day work.

> 240 minutes           Better.  Suitable for medium exposure tasks and intermittent contact.

> 120 minutes           Good.  Suitable for short exposure during use.

> 60 minutes             Acceptable.  Mostly provide splash protection.

< 30 minutes             Barely protected.  Change a new garment once contact with the chemical.

< 10 minutes             Not recommended for use. 

Table 1: Guideline of breakthrough time

Here is a general guide for choosing the appropriate breakthrough time for protective clothing.  The minimum requirement is that the breakthrough time should be longer than the duration of the expected working time.


It is critical to protect all frontline workers from chemicals in the workplace.  When looking for a garment that can provide chemical protection, follow the 3 principles just mentioned.  First, select a qualified PPE product to wear.  Then take the chemical risk assessment for the task or job, especially the toxicity of the chemical you are dealing with.  Last, check the permeation data of protective clothing and make sure the time is longer than the task required.  Thus, you can find all your needs for selecting protective clothing against chemical hazards.

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