Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

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Copyright: 2021. The Health & Safety Wiki pages are a publication of the Health & Safety Network of the American Institute for Conservation.

Some of the information included on this wiki may be out of date, particularly with regard to toxicological data and regulatory standards. Also, because new information on safety issues is continually published, resources outside of AIC should be consulted for more specific information.

Contributors: Kerith Koss Schrager, Adrienne Gendron


Personal protective equipment (PPE) for conservators refers to protective gear, garments or equipment used to protect the conservator from injury or exposure. PPE is considered the last line of defense when attempting to ensure a safe working environment and must be used in conjunction with other health and safety measures, such as engineering and administrative controls (see the Hierarchy of Controls).

Hierarchy of Controls

The following infographic describes basic procedures for laying out a PPE program:



Gloves[edit | edit source]

Glove selection for a particular task or process will depend upon potential exposures: for example, nitrile gloves would not be appropriate for cut hazards. Multiple glove sizes and types should be provided to account for identified hazards and potential allergies (e.g. latex). Some individuals may develop sensitivity to accelerators commonly used in the production of nitrile gloves; accelerator-free nitrile gloves are readily available for purchase.

Chemical Protective Gloves[edit | edit source]

For chemical use, most disposable gloves offer splash protection and prevent direct contact with chemicals. Gloves must be chosen based on the potential chemicals in use. Glove manufacturers usually provide glove breakthrough time information, which can guide glove selection for a particular chemical. Heavier weight, reusable gloves will provide additional protection for that are aggressive to typical glove materials. In-depth information on glove selection can be found at this page: Chemical Protective Gloves.

The Health & Safety Network's PPE Chemical Protective Material Selection Guide will help you select the most appropriate gloves. The guide is also available in one or two-page printable formats:

Physical Protective Gloves[edit | edit source]

A wide range of gloves are available that provide protection against cuts, punctures, abrasion, heat, cold, and vibration. The ANSI/ISEA 105-2016 American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification provides test methods that allow manufacturers to describe their products. A guide to the classification system can be found on the Grainger website. The IRSST provides a searchable tool which allows users to find appropriate glove models based on physical protective requirements and price.

Electrical Protective Gloves[edit | edit source]

Electrical safety gloves are categorized as Class 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4, depending on the level of voltage protection they provide. There is an additional classification system for ozone resistance: Type I is not resistant to ozone, and Type II is. Electrical gloves must be tested every 6 months to ensure they are in compliance with ASTM safety standards. Magid provides a detailed description of electrical glove types and their inspection here.

Eye Protection[edit | edit source]

Suitable eye and face protection should be designed for and protect against a specific hazard, be comfortable and fit properly, not restrict vision and movement, be durable and easy to clean, and allow for unrestricted functioning of any other required PPE. Types of eye protection include spectacle-type glasses, goggles, and welding and full face shields. Vented eye protection allows direct airflow to prevent fogging and can be safely used when there is no hazard of splashing or vapor. Indirect vented eye protection provides more protection than vented models by covering the ventilation so that there is no straight-line pathway from the exterior to the interior, offering more protection against splashes. Non-vented eye protection offers no ventilation and should be used in applications involving dust, mist, liquid, and/or vapor.

Chemical[edit | edit source]

Chemical resistant eyewear should be tight-fitting and completely cover the eyes, eye sockets and the facial area immediately surrounding the eyes and provide protection splashes. Examples of eyewear that protect against potential splashes or sprays of hazardous liquids are goggles and full face shields.

Impact[edit | edit source]

Eyewear should be made from impact-resistant materials and can include spectacle type glasses, tight fitting goggles, and welding masks. Full face shields will not provide adequate protection against impact hazards.

Light Radiation[edit | edit source]

Appropriate eye protection should be worn if there is a risk for exposure to harmful light radiation such as infrared, ultraviolet, or intense radiant light. Welding shields protect eyes from burns caused by infrared or intense radiant light and some face shields, spectacles and goggles block ultraviolet radiation or are polarized to reduce glare.

Not sure if your eyewear will filter UV light? Try holding them up against something that fluoresces under UV light (such as a piece of white paper). The paper should not fluoresce where the light is passed through the lenses.

Laser[edit | edit source]

Specific laser goggles are necessary for working with lasers depending on the laser class and must be rated for the wavelength in use. Specific laser goggles are necessary for working with lasers depending on the laser class and must be rated for the wavelength in use. Manufacturers and distributors of this equipment used in conservation will provide guidance and training.

Resources[edit | edit source]

This article provides an Introduction to vision care in conservation, types of eye and face protection and their associated regulatory standards and markings, the use of contact lenses, and emergency eyewash and safety showers.

Head Protection[edit | edit source]

  • Hard hats are worn when there is a risk of impact from falling objects or contact with electrical equipment. There are three classes: Class A provides impact and penetration resistance and voltage protection up to 2,200 volts; Class B provide impact and penetration resistance and the highest level of voltage protection up to 20,000 volts; and Class C provide lightweight protection from impacts but no electrical resistance.

  • Bump caps are a lightweight plastic cap used when protection is needed from head bumps and lacerations. They do not protect against falling objects.

Resources[edit | edit source]

This article provides an introduction to types of head protection and their associated regulatory standards and markings as well as practices for inspection and use.

  • Ch. 5 of Health and Safety for Museum Professionals (2011), Hawks et al, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, New York

Clothing & Suits[edit | edit source]

Disposable Body Coverings

  • Tyvek coats, gowns, and sleeves are tear resistant and provide protection from particulates. Some are coated for chemical resistance.

Lab Coats

  • Cotton/cotton-polyester blend coats are appropriate for settings without risk of fire and provide some physical resistance. However, a wide variety of products are available and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with the manufacturer.

  • Flame resistant coats are specifically designed to resist ignition and are made of a flame-resistant cotton material such as Nomex. They are required when working with highly reactive chemicals, explosive chemicals, or large volumes of organic solvents.

  • Barrier coats are typically polyester and are used when working with infectious materials due to their three-layer construction.

Foot Protection[edit | edit source]

Foot protection is available in a variety of sizes and styles but must be selected according to the potential hazard.

  • Enclosed footwear is necessary for anyone working in a laboratory in order to protect against spills of hazardous substances.

  • Steel-toed shoes are necessary where handling heavy equipment.
  • Metatarsal guard shoes provide the maximum level of protection, protecting both the toe and metatarsal area as well as providing protection against extreme heat.

Resources[edit | edit source]

This article provides an introduction to types of footwear protection and their associated regulatory standards and markings, considerations for selection, and practices for inspection and use.

Hearing Protection[edit | edit source]

Selection of the appropriate level of hearing protection will depend on the exposure scenario. Note that as part of their Hearing Conservation Program, OSHA requires employers to monitor noise exposure levels to identify and monitor employees exposed to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

Earmuffs: Earmuffs are typically easier to fit to more individuals than in-ear solutions, are more intuitive to wear, and are reusable. They also tend to last longer than smaller, in-ear models, and are more visible, making it easier to see when employees are wearing them. However, they may interfere with proper use of other types of PPE such as safety glasses and can be uncomfortable to wear.

Earplugs: Earplugs are available in a variety of formats.

  • Soft expandable foam earplugs are widely available and are disposable. The foam must be rolled into a cylinder before insertion in order to provide adequate protection.

  • Push-to-fit earplugs have soft foam tips with a flexible stem and eliminate the need for rolling, making it easier to insert them with gloved hands.

  • Canal caps are reusable pre-molded earplugs mounted on a flexible band which can be worn over the head, making them convenient to don and doff. They are typically not as comfortable and offer less protection than other devices.

  • Pre-molded reusable versions come with cords attaching the two sides, which makes them easier to keep track of and more convenient to carry. However, because they are preformed rather than soft foam, they are less likely to fit an individual’s ear precisely.

  • Custom-molded models are available that provide a comfortable fit for any user and must be made by a licensed provider.

Earplugs must be properly inserted to effectively reduce noise exposure. The following infographics provide information on how to properly insert earplugs:

In some situations, dual hearing protection (wearing two types of hearing protection at once) can be an effective way to limit noise exposure. The following resource describes a method for estimating noise exposure when wearing dual hearing protection:

Resources[edit | edit source]

Respiratory Protection[edit | edit source]

Read about respiratory protection here: A Conservator's Guide to Respiratory Protection

Ventilation[edit | edit source]

See the Ventilation page for in-depth information.

Respirators[edit | edit source]

When selecting a respirator identify and evaluate the hazard. Your respirator will need different types of filters, cartridges, or canisters depending on the type and amount of airborne contaminant in your workplace. For example, respirators that have particulate filters will not protect you against gases, vapors and the non-particulate components of fumes, mists, fogs, smoke and sprays. Also consider whether the hazard has any additional characteristics that may affect the type of respirator selected. For example, does the hazard irritate the eyes? Do you need splash and spray protection as well as eye protection? If so, you will need a full facepiece respirator or some type of eye protection. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of respirator, so it's important that you select a type that's best suited for your work setting and the hazards.

The Health & Safety Network's publication A Conservator's Guide to Respiratory Protection, provides more detailed information on selecting and using a respirator.

The two main types of respirators are air-purifying and atmosphere-supplying, which can be further classified as tight or loose-fitting.

  • Air-purifying Respirators: These respirators use filters, cartridges, or canisters to remove contaminants from the air you breathe.

  • Atmosphere-supplying Respirators: These respirators provide you with clean air from an uncontaminated source. If the work atmosphere lacks sufficient oxygen (oxygen-deficient or contaminated to the point of being immediately dangerous to life or health) or "IDLH," only atmosphere-supplying respirators, such as an airline respirator or a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) can be used.

  • Tight-fitting Respirators: The respirators require a tight seal between the respirator and the face and/or neck of the respirator user in order to work properly. If the respirator's seal leaks, contaminated air will be pulled into the facepiece and can be breathed in. Therefore, anything that interferes with the respirator seal is not permitted when using this type of respirator. This could include facial hair, earrings, head scarves, wigs, and facial piercings. Respirator Fit Testing: You must be fit tested with the tight-fitting respirator selected for your use. Fit testing is done to be sure that the respirator's facepiece fits your face. You must be fit tested before you use your respirator for the first time. You must also be re-tested at least every 12 months to be sure that your respirator continues to fit your face. Surgeries, dental implants, and weight gain/loss can affect respirator fit. Quantitative fit testing objectively measures the quantity of leakage occurring with a respirator and is more expensive, whereas qualitative fit testing relies on the user's smell and taste for leakage detection.

  • Loose-fitting Respirators: These respirators do not depend on a tight seal with the face to provide protection. Therefore, they do not need to be fit tested.
  • Escape-only Respirators: These respirators provide breathable air to provide protection for emergency escape from areas containing harmful gases; they typically provide protection for about one hour and are intended for emergency use only.

Donning, Doffing, Maintenance, and Disposal[edit | edit source]

Conservators must be aware of proper methods for donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) personal protective equipment.

The following infographics lay out information for proper donning and doffing techniques:

Personal protective equipment can be disposable (Tyvek suits, most gloves, single-use earplugs, N-95 respirators) or reusable (half-mask respirators, hard hats, reusable earplugs, footwear, goggles, lab coats). Disposable PPE should be discarded after one use. Reusable PPE can be cleaned, stored, and reused more than once, provided that it is maintained in good working order. Check with the manufacturer's instructions to ensure proper maintenance of reusable PPE: it may require regular laundering, sanitizing, inspection, or special storage conditions for proper maintenance. Different types of PPE may require different maintenance procedures. When in doubt, THROW IT OUT!

Supply & Equipment Resources[edit | edit source]

Charm & Hammer
Granger Industrial Supply
Fisher Scientific
Sigma Aldrich

Additional Reading[edit | edit source]

Imperial College, London. 2013. Glove Selection Guidance
United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). 2013. Personal Protection Equipment
OSHA 2011. Pocket Guide on Hearing Protection.

NIOSH 2018. PPE page.
University of Washington 2020. PPE guidelines.
Smithsonian Institution. 2010. SI Safety Manual Ch. 17 PPE.


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