Sometimes, first responders and those who work in toxic environments must wear hazardous materials suits, more commonly known as hazmat suits. Hazmat suits are a form of personal protective equipment that covers the entire body. They are worn to protect the wearer from coming into contact with hazardous materials such as; gas, chemicals, infectious substances, and bodily fluids.
In addition to the full-body suit, doctors, firefighters, and cleanup crews; may also wear gowns, goggles, and gloves to protect themselves from exposure further. Each health facility and organization has its procedures for wearing hazmat suits.
Besides their use in firefighting, hazmat suits are worn in other situations. The United States has dealt with many outbreaks, such as anthrax, H1N1, and Ebola. Since these agents could cause severe injury or even death to those who come in contact with them; hazmat suits are worn to protect the wearer when assisting patients and victims. Doctors treating these patients are advised to wear hazmat suits as well.
Capabilities Of Hazmat Suits
Hazmat suits are potent pieces of clothing that can protect against various agents and chemicals. Barrier materials such as Tyvek, Teflon, and heavy PVC protect the wearer from chemical agents. They also protect against nuclear agents by preventing contact with radioactive materials. The wearer is unable to touch or breathe in gases and particles.
Because a hazmat suit is a fully sealed system; biological agents cannot penetrate the suit and cause contamination. Reflective materials and insulation can help prevent burns and reduce the effects of fire and high temperatures.
Even if the suit leaks or ruptures, contamination may not take place. In many cases, the air is pumped into the suit as a protective measure; to keep contaminants from entering the suit.
One disadvantage of hazmat suits is that they are very confining; and it’s a challenge to spend too much time working on one. Hazmat suits have little ventilation, so that they can get hot and uncomfortable quickly. The use of hazmat suits is limited to two hours; and the limit is 15-20 minutes for Level A suits due to a limited air supply.
Levels Of Protection
Hazmat suits are designed to ensure that; infectious fluids, hazardous materials, and other substances do not touch the wearer. They are made of a unique impermeable material similar to a raincoat. They are classified into four areas, depending on the level of protection they provide.
- Level A provides the highest level of protection.r Particles, gases, mists, and vapors cannot penetrate the suit. A Level A suit uses a self-contained breathing apparatus, respirator, and two-way radio. Chemical-resistant gloves and steel-toed boots are also worn. You may also wear long underwear, coveralls, and a hard hat, depending on the situation.
- While Level B hazmat suits are used when not as much as skin protection is required; they still offer the highest respiration level. These suits are chemical resistant and prevent splashes. While the boots and gloves provide a high level of protection, they are not airtight.
- Level C suits are resistant to airborne substances, and they are ideal for decontaminating victims of an outbreak; or patients with an infectious disease. They use the same suit as used in Level B; but it allows for respiratory equipment to be used.
- Level D suits are made of lower-quality materials, and are often used by firefighters. Instead, they do not offer protection against chemicals; and are used for nuisance contamination. Wearers of this suit must also put on steel-toed chemical-resistant footwear, coveralls, and a face shield to get complete protection.
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Types Of Suits
There are two main types of hazmat suits: gastight and splash protection.
- Level A suits are considered gastight. Also, have several layers of protection from airborne and direct contact with chemicals.
- Splash protection hazmat suits (typically level B suits) offer less protection. While they are often fully encapsulating, they are not gastight.
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Putting On And Taking Off A Hazmat Suit
It takes just a few minutes to put on your regular clothes – your pants, shirt, and shoes. Putting on a hazmat suit is an ordeal compared to that. Expect to spend 30 minutes getting your suit on properly. After you put on your regular clothing, the suit goes on over it. The suit goes on first to assess if there are any openings where contamination could come in.
The hazmat suit is secured tightly; around the waist, face, neck, wrists, and ankles to ensure the wearer receives no exposure to hazardous materials. The face mask, hood, sleeves, gloves, and shoes are then put on.
Taking off the suit is also a challenge because you don’t want the suit to contaminate the skin or clothing. The Centers for Disease Control has guidelines in place for adequately removing a hazmat suit. You must remove garments and gloves without even touching the outside of them; and the suit’s exterior is considered contaminated.
The wearer should start from the head and work down to the feet to remove all personal protective equipment. The suit should be rolled downward, with the self-contained breathing apparatus the final item to be removed. Wearers should never touch the front of the respirator.
The wearer should wash their hands after each step of the process. In addition, all equipment should be removed; while in the isolation area to prevent contamination.
Hazmat suits offer the utmost protection in dangerous situations. They are a must-have in many occupations, as they keep wearers safe from particles, gases, and more.
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