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Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a main source of protection for emergency and recovery workers.  Depending on the type of emergency which may include flooding, hurricanes, fire, electricity, structural collapse, falls, terrorism, earthquakes, tornadoes, extreme temperatures, diseases, among others. It is necessary to protect emergency response and recovery workers from physical, chemical and biological hazards. Routes of exposure include inhalation, dermal contact, ingestion or contact through mucous membranes. Therefore, main protective equipment includes respirators, eye protection, hearing protection and protective clothing. Depending on the hazard, the recommendations on the use of PPE change. Some examples of PPE may include Gas masks, gloves, overalls, boots, and googles.

Personal protective equipment is very important for any emergency responder. This webpage provides information concerning the proper use of respirators including publications referring to respirator approval for chemical warfare, protective equipment for structural collapse events, and selection of PPE. Other informational materials regarding the proper use of PPE under different conditions and situations are also available. The materials cover previous experiences with respirators and their selection, use of protective clothing to protect against biological agents, PPE for flood responders, infection control, and hearing protection.

Eyes are always at risk of exposure to different hazards that may include contact with dust, metal particles, debris, glass particles, gas, chemicals, blood borne pathogens and thermal hazards. Exposure to these hazards may lead to the development of adverse illness that affect eyesight which can include eyeball lacerations, affectations to the cornea such as corneal abrasions, conjunctivitis, and burns. Eye protection is vital to provide an appropriate response and assure health and safety of emergency response and recovery workers. The following resources provide information of the types of hazards workers might face and types of recommended eye protection.

eye protection

Eye related injuries at work can have different origins that may include contact with chemical substances, penetration with external objects, among others. The following page contains general information on preventing eye injuries as well as NIOSH eye safety resources, occupational eye injury statistics, and eye related NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluations and Fatality Reports

  • Risk of exposure to hazardous substances during a disaster is always present. This NIOSH web page provides an overview of eye hazards and injuries, types of eye protection, safety for prescription lens wearers to prevent injury while working in emergency locations.
    Eye Safety – Emergency Response & Disaster Recovery
    En Español
  • This NIOSH web page provides background information and specific details on eye protection that can be used to supplement eye protection recommendations provided in current CDC infection control guidance documents. It is intended to familiarize workers with the various types of eye protection available, their characteristics, and their applicable use.
    Eye Protection for Infection Control

Occupational hearing loss is a common work-related illness. Not just in everyday work activities but also in emergency settings where hazardous noise levels and ototoxic chemicals can affect emergency response and recovery workers hearing. NIOSH has recommended exposure limits for occupational noise exposure to avoid hazardous exposures. Other types of controls and recommendations to reduce workplace noise such as hierarchy controls are available including elimination or substitution, engineering and administrative control and use of personal protective equipment such as earplugs or earmuffs. There are multiple resources available to provide technical information to evaluate noise hazards in workplaces and also to prevent hear loss, monitoring and selection of low noise equipment is important to address this hazard. The following page provides resources to protect workers from hearing loss.

caution ear protection area
  • NIOSH conducts research to develop effective strategies to prevent hearing loss caused by chemical and noise exposure. This webpage provides access to guidance regarding available OSHA regulations and NIOSH criteria for recommended standards of occupational noise exposure. An overview of the hierarchy of noise controls is available for review, this section includes resources for noise exposure control, engineering controls, the NIOSH “buy quiet initiative”, data sets focused on Power tools sound, technical manuals for noise hazard abatement and control from OSHA, and a practical guide preventing occupational hearing loss. This page provides information on choosing a hearing aid that is right for every worker.
    NIOSH Noise and Hearing Loss Protection Topic Page

Protective clothing is designed to protect users from unintended dermal exposures that could lead to the development of an adverse health hazard. Depending on the hazard different types of protective clothing must be developed to create a barrier that protects workers from occupational hazards that could affect them through dermal contact. There are different considerations that must be taken into account when selecting the appropriate protective clothing including the hazard, the material, design, durability comfort and functionality. Some examples of protective clothing include coveralls or fluid resistant garments. Usually these garments are designed to protect workers from chemicals and other body fluids such as urine, saliva, blood, etc. It is important to take into account the shape, size of microorganisms, chemical properties of the fabric such as repellency, or pore size, and external factors that may affect the effectivity of the garment such as temperature or physical and chemical conditions. The following websites provide information on the correct selection and use of protective clothing.

  • Provides guidance on selection of chemical protective clothing and other information resources from NIOSH’s Protective Clothing and Ensembles program. This program incorporates a broad range of studies of how chemicals cross through barrier materials, leak through small holes, or change the barrier material to reduce its protection. NIOSH publications include recommendations for the selection and use of protective clothing against biological agents, chemical warfare agents, chemical hazards, and hazardous waste. Other NIOSH resources include personal protective technology programs, permeation calculators, and testing reviews. All of these resources provide general guidance for the use and selection of protective equipment to prevent hazardous exposures of emergency response and recovery workers.
    NIOSH Protective Clothing Topic Page
protective clothing
  • This publication provides recommendations on how to protect workers against biological agents. This document is based on current understanding of the potential agents and existing recommendations for biological aerosols and is oriented toward acts of terrorism. The recommendations take into account the potential of biological particles to penetrate through pores, gaps, and closures present in the protective garment supporting the need of perform fit testing. Another important component of the publication is the identification of protective ensembles designed to protect workers from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazards and the presence of secondary releases with adverse effects.
    Recommendations for the Selection and Use of Respirators and Protective Clothing for Protection Against Biological Agents
cover of the NIOSH pocket guide
  • The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards is a source of general industrial hygiene information for occupational health professionals, workers and employers providing information about chemical hazards in the workplace. The guide has an index with several hundred chemicals that can be found in work environments. Some key data is provided for each chemical including name (synonyms, trade names), structure, chemical formula, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Numbers, conversion factors, exposure limits, concentrations that are immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH), chemical and physical properties, and measurement methods. For each substance the guide provides personal protection recommendations, and helps to identify symptoms, and first aid advice.
    NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards
skin protection
  • The following website offers information related to NIOSH skin research focused on skin hazards, dermal absorption, skin dermatitis, and functions of the skin, as well as a link to the NIOSH skin permeation calculator, a resource that allows users to input data and measure the conductance of skin to a particular chemical from a particular vehicle.
    NIOSH Skin Exposures and Effects Topic Page

Respirators are one of the most important pieces of personal protective equipment for workers when other control systems are not feasible to protect the health and safety of workers. Respirators cover as minimum the nose and mouth of users and remove contaminants from the air by filtering airborne particles or chemical agents from air. This type of respirator is called an air purifying respirator. Other type of respirator known as air supplying respirator supplies clean air from another source to the user, this last type includes self-contained breathing apparatus that include their own air supply and airline respirators that use compressed air from a remote source. Particulate respirators can include particular filtering facepiece respirators which are usually suitable for single use, elastomeric respirators and powered air-purifying respirators. The selection of an appropriate respirator depends on the type of particle or chemical it is protecting from, users should perform fit testing prior to use and be aware of respiratory training, and check for NIOSH respirator approvals. The following webpages provide access to resources and tools related to the use and selection of respiratory protection.

  • The NIOSH respirator topic page provides information on basic respirator protection as well as types of respirators, user notices, respirator selection, respirator certification process, and standards. Other available resources include NIOSH publications related to the use of respirators under varied conditions, certified equipment list, NIOSH approved respirator, training videos, donning and doffing videos and respiratory protection recommendations.
    NIOSH Respirator Topic Page
  • This document provides a process that respirator program administrators can use to select appropriate respirators to protect workers in specific workplaces. Replaces the NIOSH Respirator Decision Logic and includes information on N-95 through P-100 particulate respirators. The content includes general information and restrictions, criteria for selecting respirators, restrictions and requirements for all respirator usage, logic sequence for the selection of particulate respirators, gas/vapor respirators, escape respirators, and exposure limits.
    NIOSH Respirator Selection Logic 2004
respirator topic selection guide
  • NIOSH follows standard procedures for testing respirators. This notice asks manufacturers to stop labeling as approved an affected respirator. The page describes the case and the actions took by NIOSH and provides links for the NIOSH Standard testing procedures for the chemical warfare agent tests conducted on CBRN respirators, both air-purifying and atmosphere-supplying.
    Chemical Warfare Agent (CWA) Testing for NIOSH CBRN Respirator Approvals
hazardous waste operations and emergency response
  • This document provides guidance on the use of personal protective equipment during the response to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies related to terrorism incidents. The guidance describes different hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER) standards referent to the protection levels that vary between level A, B and C. Depending on the knowledge available regarding the hazard. The guidance describes personal protective equipment performance standards for each type of respirator and provides a comparison of respirator and ensemble combinations to OSHA-EPA levels. The department of homeland security provides some additional guidance.
    Guidance on Emergency Responder Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Response to CBRN Terrorism Incidents
escape hood
  • This searchable database contains a list of certified respirators that have been approve by NIOSH and meet quality protection criteria. Users can search the equipment necessary to protect themselves according to their needs and particular hazards. Users can apply different filters such as type of respirator, protection, manufacturer, facepiece type, SAR Type, label etc.
    Certified Equipment List
  • During emergencies emergency responders might encounter chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards. There are three different classification zones for contaminated area. The guidance Identifies areas where chemical contamination is likely or less likely using a zone matrix (red, yellow, and green). Also lists specific risks and guidance on selecting PPE in each zone and offers specific hazard information referent to nerve agents, blister agents, and radiological dispersal devices.
    OSHA / NIOSH Personal Protective Equipment Selection Matrix for Emergency RespondersExternal
  • OSHA and NIOSH provide technical assistance to employers in an emergency response event related to a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD), or “Dirty Bomb”. This last ones refer to explosive devices surrounded or contaminated with radioactive material. The radiation hazard depends on the source of the material being used. This page describes the personal protective equipment that should be used to prevent exposure to radioactivity and provides exposure limits associated to ionizing radiation.
    OSHA/NIOSH Interim Guidance: CBRN Personal Protective Equipment Selection Matrix for Emergency Responders – Radiological Dispersal DeviceExternal
  • OSHA and NIOSH provide technical assistance to employers in an emergency response event related to exposure to nerve agents. Nerve agents refer to organophosphate chemicals that are highly toxic and are designed for military warfare. These agents disrupt the nervous system and extremely toxic for human health. The selection of personal protective equipment depends on the knowledge level available of the chemical of interest. This page summarizes CDC and US Army exposure limits to nerve agents and provides specific recommendations to prevent and limit exposure to nerve agents.
    OSHA/NIOSH Interim Guidance – CBRN Personal Protective Equipment Selection Matrix for Emergency Responders- Nerve AgentsExternal
  • Blister agents have irritating properties, this act on the skin causing swelling and inflammation until it progresses to blisters. Blister agents can affect other tissues such as eyes and respiratory tissue, producing lacrimation and damage to the eye surface and making the respiratory tissue susceptible to adverse effects. This webpage provides technical assistance to employers in an emergency response event related to exposure to blister agents and recommends personal protective equipment based on the associated effects to these types of hazards. This webpage provides a summary of CDC and US Army airborne exposure limits for airborne substances and provides a selection guide of PPE depending on exposure guideline levels.
    OSHA/NIOSH Interim Guidance – CBRN Personal Protective Equipment Selection Matrix for Emergency Responders – Blister AgentsExternal
  • The following page provides guidance for selecting cleaning equipment and supplies for respirator disinfection. The webpage provides general sanitizing and guidance and videos with procedures for respirator maintenance.
    Suggested Respirator Cleaning and Sanitation Procedures
Page last reviewed: November 30, 2018