Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Guidelines for Emergency Preparedness and Response (Excerpt)

Personal protection

Effective personal protection is essential for any person who may be exposed to potentially hazardous substances. In emergency situations, employees may be exposed to a wide variety of hazardous circumstances, including:

• Chemical splashes or contact with toxic materials;

• Falling objects and flying particles;

• Unknown atmospheres that may contain toxic gases, vapors, or mists, or inadequate oxygen to sustain life;

• Fires and electrical hazards;

• Violence in the workplace.

It is extremely important that employees be adequately protected in these situations. Some of the safety equipment that may be used include:

• Safety glasses, goggles, or face shields for eye protection;

• Hard hats and safety shoes for head and foot protection;

• Proper respirators for breathing protection;

• Whole body covering chemical suits, gloves, hoods, and boots for body protection from chemicals;

• Body protection for abnormal environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures.

The equipment selected must meet the criteria contained in the OSHA standards or described by a nationally recognized standards-producing organization. The choice of proper equipment is not a simple matter, and consultation should be made with health and safety professionals before making any purchases. Manufacturers and distributors of health and safety products may be able to answer questions if they have enough information about the potential hazards involved.

Professional consultation most likely will be needed in providing adequate respiratory protection. Respiratory protection is necessary for toxic atmospheres of dust, mists, gases, or vapors and for oxygen-deficient atmospheres. There are four basic categories of respirators:

• Air-purifying devices (filters, gas masks, and chemical cartridges), which remove contaminants from the air but cannot be used in oxygen-deficient atmospheres;

• Air-supplied respirators (hose masks, and air line respirators), which should not be used in atmospheres that are immediately dangerous to life or health;

• Positive-pressure self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), which are required for unknown atmospheres, oxygen-deficient atmospheres, or atmospheres immediately dangerous to life or health;

• Escape masks.

Before assigning or using respiratory equipment, the following conditions must be met:

1. A medical evaluation should be made to determine if the employees are physically able to use the respirator.

2. Written procedures must be prepared covering safe use and proper care of the equipment, and employees must be trained in these procedures and in the use and maintenance of respirators.

3. A fit test must be made to determine a proper match between the facepiece of the respirator and the face of the wearer. This testing must be repeated periodically. Training must provide the employee an opportunity to handle the respirator, have it fitted properly, test its facepiece-to-face seal, wear it in normal air for a familiarity period, and wear it in a test atmosphere.

4. A regular maintenance program must be instituted including cleaning, inspecting, and testing of all respiratory equipment. Respirators used for emergency response must be inspected after each use and at least monthly to ensure that they are in satisfactory working condition. A written record of inspection must be maintained.

5. Distribution areas for equipment used in emergencies must be readily accessible to employees.

SCBA offers the best protection to employees involved in controlling emergency situations. It must have a minimum service life rating of at least 30 minutes. Conditions that require a positive-pressure SCBA include the following:

• Leaking cylinders or containers, smoke from chemical fires, or chemical spills that indicate high potential for exposure to toxic substances;

• Atmospheres with unknown contaminants or unknown contaminant concentrations, confined spaces that may contain toxic substances, or oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Employee Emergency Plans and Fire Protection Plans. 29 CFR 1910.38.