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Health & Safety Manual - Biological Safety

2.5 Personal Protective Equipment

2.5.1 Gloves
2.5.2 Eye Protection
2.5.3 Lab Coats
2.5.4 Surgical Masks
2.5.5 Respirators

The appropriate use of personnel protective equipment (PPE) is critical in reducing exposure to potentially infectious materials.  PPE use must be put into its proper context, however.  PPE is to be considered the ‘last line of defense’ when risk assessment does not indicate that engineering controls and work practices can be relied upon for adequate protection.  These situations frequently exist, necessitating the use of PPE.

2.5.1 Gloves
Glovesmust be worn whenever handling infectious materials.  Users of latex gloves are at risk for developing allergies to latex or the chemicals used in manufacturing these gloves.  Nitrile or vinyl gloves should be used instead of latex.  Those who prefer latex should use only powder-free gloves that are designated "low protein" by the manufacturer.  Glove manufacturers should be able to document their products' resistance to permeation. 

Corrosives and organic solvents may penetrate gloves or diminish their protective ability; it may be necessary to stock more than one type of glove for the full range of a laboratory's activities. Glove compatibility information is available from glove manufacturers, or consult the EH&S web site.

When using any glove:

  • Check for visible tears and other defects.
  • Remove rings and other jewelry if they may rip gloves.
  • Protective ability diminishes as gloves are worn due to stretching and abrasion; change gloves regularly or as soon as possible if they are overtly contaminated.
  • Wash hands immediately after removing gloves.
  • Remove gloves when leaving the laboratory; even if they are "clean", their presence in an elevator or other common area justifiably causes misgivings among other building occupants - they do not want to turn the same door knob.  (Proper decontamination of the exterior surfaces of containers used to transport infectious materials is required and will eliminate the perceived need to wear gloves during transport on campus.)

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2.5.2 Eye Protection
Eye injuries are among the most preventable types of laboratory accidents.  Glasses routinely worn for vision correction do not provide the appropriate level of protection for work with hazardous materials.

  • Safety glasses with side shields provide the minimum level of protection for handling any hazardous material. 
  • Goggles, which unlike safety glasses fit tightly all around the eyes are required for activities with a small splash hazard or work with organisms transmissible through mucous membrane exposure.
  • Goggles are used with a face shield when an elevated risk of large quantity splashes exists or when working with highly toxic, corrosive, or infectious materials.  Face shields must also be used for protection against UV radiation (be sure that the face shield carries the manufacturer’s validation of UV protection) and when handling liquid nitrogen.

2.5.3 Lab Coats
Lab coats must not be worn outside of the laboratory if they were used during work with infectious materials.  Wear coats that are resistant to liquid penetration for activities with splash potential or use a plasticized apron.  For high risk activities, use a rear-fastening lab coat.  Provision, laundering, and replacement of lab coats is the responsibility of the Principal Investigator, or Department; employees must not launder contaminated lab coats at their home. 

2.5.4 Surgical Masks
Masks will help prevent ingestionandprotect the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth.  They do not provide sufficient protection against infection from organisms transmitted by inhalation, e.g., M. tuberculosis.

2.5.5 Respirators
Respirators are used when there is the risk of airborne exposure to organisms transmitted by inhalation and containment devices are unavailable or unable to provide sufficient protection.  Respirators use must be preceded by medical clearance, training, and fit testing.  These services must be arranged through EH&S.

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