REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE
What You Should Know about Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is equipment that is worn to reduce your exposure to hazardous chemicals. Gloves, protective clothing, goggles, and respirators are types of PPE.
PPE can work very well, but it must be the right kind for the type of work tasks and the types of chemicals in the workplace. It must also be maintained correctly, or else it might provide little or no protection. PPE typically reduces your exposure, but does not eliminate it completely, so wearing PPE does not guarantee complete protection for you or for an unborn baby if you are pregnant.
Some chemicals can pass through, or permeate, gloves or other PPE very quickly. The companies that sell gloves and other PPE have chemical resistance guides that show how long a specific glove type or fabric will hold up to specific chemicals. Work with your company’s safety office or a company that sells PPE to find the right gloves and other PPE.
Respirators are protective masks or hoods that you can wear to help you breathe cleaner air. There are many different types of respirators. Many respirators are unlikely to cause difficulties for pregnant workers, but there are a few things to consider:
- Some respirators must be fitted to your face to make a tight seal. Weight changes, including weight gained during pregnancy, can affect how a respirator fits. If a respirator does not fit correctly, it may not protect you.
- Some respirators (like negative pressure respirators) make you work harder to breathe. Because pregnancy can also make women work harder to breathe, this can sometimes cause difficulties (particularly late in pregnancy).
If you wear a tight-fitting or negative pressure respirator, we suggest talking to your doctor and safety office to make sure you can wear your respirator safely and correctly throughout pregnancy. Pregnant women who have difficulty with their normal respirators might be able to switch job duties temporarily so they don’t have to wear a respirator, or switch to a different kind of respirator that doesn’t fit tightly to the face or make it more difficult to breathe.
Additional PPE Resources
- Glove Selection Guidelines
This Web page from the Argonne National Laboratory discusses how to choose an appropriate glove for the task, including advantages/disadvantages of popular glove materials.
Here are examples of glove selection guides from companies:
Disclaimer: Mention of any company or product does not constitute endorsement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition, citations to Web sites external to NIOSH do not constitute NIOSH endorsement of the sponsoring organizations or their programs or products. Furthermore, NIOSH is not responsible for the content of these Web sites.
- NIOSH- Protective Clothing and Ensembles
This website provides information on choosing clothing, gloves, and eye protection.
- NIOSH PPE Directory
This directory includes information on protective equipment, hearing protection, certified equipment lists, and respirator documentation.
- OSHA- Personal Protective Equipment [PDF 618 KB]
This is the official OSHA booklet on PPE. It describes different types of protective equipment and when they are appropriate. It also includes a brief chart of chemical resistance by glove type.
- Quick Selection Guide to Chemical Protective Clothing, 5th ed.
Forsberg K, Mansdorf SZ. Wiley, 2007.
This glove guidance document includes detailed information on chemical resistance, including break-through times for specific chemicals against different types of gloves.
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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