Lab PPEs and their functions - how to stay safe
Table of contents
- Lab Coats
- Face Masks
- Splash Glasses
- Boots / closed footwear
- Closing thoughts
For a scientist, a lab is a place where the magic happens. Be it the labs with sophisticated types of equipment or a lab with the basic chemicals and reaction mixtures, it is one of the places where everything and anything is important. This also includes Personal Protective Equipment or PPE.
As the name suggests, PPEs are for the protection of the lab staff and anyone who comes in contact with the chemicals, equipment and specimens in the lab and they also separate the person from the environment thus protecting the surroundings. Although each lab has its own set of PPEs that the lab workers are required to wear, there are some basic things that are part of almost all lab types. Some of these universal pieces of PPE are listed and described in the following paragraphs.
Lab coats and overalls are two of the most significant items of lab-related apparel that are required by nearly all laboratories. Their size, colours, and length may vary based on the type of lab, but the lab cover is essential in all laboratory and science-related settings. It is also one of the cliché outfits that we see in advertisements, movies, and notably physicians who are usually dressed in white clean overalls. The major aim of lab coats is to separate the environment and the individual so that when a person working in a lab leaves, the lab contaminants and hazardous material remains behind, and vice versa when entering the lab. The colour, on the other hand, is determined by the arrangement and also identifies who performs what. The objective behind being white or light in colour is to immediately recognise whether any body fluids, pollutants, or substance has spilled or splattered over the cloth during the procedure so that it may be replaced.
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As previously said, the major aim of the PPEs is to separate and protect the person from the laboratory surroundings, as well as to guarantee that nothing hazardous comes into direct contact with the person's body. Gloves are also used in laboratories for the same purpose. It protects the skin against corrosive and harmful substances such as acids, corrosive bases, biological infectious bodily fluids, and other similar compounds. Their colour and composition also vary depending on the sort of operation being conducted and the lab setting, however, chemists and biologists typically always wear gloves inside labs.
Headcovers, while not mandatory, are part of the PPE and many laboratories encourage their employees to wear one while in the lab. This is a two-way mechanism that keeps chemicals and fluids from getting into direct touch with the human scalp. Although it is extremely unlikely for someone to pour anything on someone's head, it is preferable not to risk it. The second reason that headcovers are part of PPEs is to keep hair and, in certain circumstances, dandruff from falling onto the workbench and contaminating the reaction/experiment or whatever one is doing in biological labs where bacteria are being cultivated.
All the rage in the past two years, face masks have been protecting scientists and lab workers since forever. They serve the purpose of protecting their wearer from inhaling or orally introducing contaminants or chemicals into their body. Masks come in different shapes and sizes, but what matters is their type and what their intended use is. Surgical, hygienical, medical, FFP1, FFP2, FFP3, these all mostly differ in the type of fabric/cloth/material used for the filtering, how many layers of it there are, if there is only one type of layer or multiple, hydro- and oleophobic qualities of the fabric, etc. Masks aren't mandatory in every lab.
Splash glasses are transparent, large, plastic glasses that protect your eyes from dust, chemicals, hazardous fumes, and, as the name implies, fluid splashes. Almost all laboratory settings have certain regulations for wearing them, and some facilities in the United States and Europe have stringent laws about it. They are large enough to cover someone's spectacles, so they don't have to be removed and can both be worn at the same time.
Boots / closed footwear
There is always the possibility of a chemical or liquid spillage in a lab, which may not be safe at all. If chemicals are spilt on the floor, they are more likely to come into contact with someone’s feet. Foot coverings are typically utilised as an extra layer of protection to better protect and prevent the feet from being injured during the lab from chemical and physical harm. The general rule is to always wear non-perforated and close-fitting shoes made of non-water or liquid absorbent material. The obvious reason is to avoid prolonged skin contact with the chemicals. The foot coverings provide additional protection.
However, it is often said that while in a lab, even if you have all the safety in the world, the danger is only an arms-length away if you are not careful enough. The key to getting the best protection is to be alert and cautious. Wear lab coats and gloves at all times, and other PPEs as needed.