Chemical-Resistant Workwear: What Do I Need to Know?

24 February 2020

Chemicals are everywhere in the modern workplace. Even if they are not immediately corrosive to the skin that doesn't mean they won't be causing you harm on a long-term basis. It's essential to be aware of chemical fumes, particles and liquids so you can effectively protect yourself.

Chemical-Resistant Workwear
Chemicals can cause harm via inhalation, absorption, ingestion or injection

Different safety standards apply to chemical-resistant clothing than apply to chemical-resistant goggles and chemical-resistant gloves. Here the focus will be on chemical-resistant clothing.

Which Professions Require Chemical-Resistant Clothing?

Many professions and environments require protection against chemicals:

  • Chemical laboratories
  • Health and medical professions
  • Food industry
  • Forensic investigation
  • Chemical engineering
  • Pharmacology
  • Beauty industry

When Are Chemicals Dangerous?

Whether a chemical is in gas, liquid or solid form, they still have the potential to harm you. Some ways that chemicals can enter your body are as follows:

  • Inhalation
  • Absorption through the skin
  • Ingestion
  • Injection

It is highly important to know which hazardous substances are present in the workplace, and to prevent and control exposure to these substances. Chemicals can cause harm immediately after contact, or the effect may be cumulative and only become apparent after a span of time.

Which Chemicals Are Harmful?

Below is a list of some harmful varieties of chemicals and the potential dangers they pose to your health.

Chemicals Hazard
Pesticides, mercury, lead, solvents, carbon monoxide Effect on brain and nervous system
Acid mists and vapours, welding fumes, diesel exhaust Eyes, nose and throat irritation
Asbestos, welding fumes, acids, flour dust, isocyanate, wood dust Effects on lungs
Vinyl chloride Liver damage
Azo dyes Bladder damage
Nickel, latex, chromate, solvents, detergents, oils, lubricants Effects on skin
Benzene in petrol fumes Effects on blood and bone marrow

What Are Some Key Terms?

Following are some key terms describing the various harmful effects of chemicals:

  • Acute Toxicity: Single exposure to the chemical results in adverse health effects
  • Carcinogen: A chemical that causes cancer
  • Chronic Toxicity: Multiple exposures to the chemical results in adverse health effects
  • CMR: A chemical that is carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction
  • Corrosive: A chemical that causes irreversible damage to skin, eyes or airways
  • Irritant: A chemical that causes reversible damage to skin, eyes or airways
  • Mutagen: Chemicals that cause permanent damage to genetic material in the cells
  • Reproductive Toxin: A chemical that can affect male and female reproductive systems
  • Respiratory Sensitiser: A chemical that can cause allergic reaction in the airways
  • Skin Sensitiser: A chemical that can cause allergic reaction of the skin

How Is Chemical Resistance Tested?

There are several test methods which are commonly used when assessing a garment's chemical resistance level.

Penetration Test

Four different chemical solutions are applied to a sample of the fabric in the form of a low-pressure water spray. The quantities of liquid which drip off and penetrate the fabric are measured. The following chemicals are used for the test:

  • Sulphuric Acid H2S04 30%
  • Sodium Hydroxide NaHO 30%
  • 0-Xylene undiluted
  • 1-Butanol undiluted

Mannequin Test

The wearer must perform seven movements, and the permeability of the garment to liquid chemicals is subsequently determined. This is intended to establish whether the garment itself, and not just the fabric used to construct it, is able to resist liquid penetration.

Other Test Methods

Chemical-resistant garments are also often tested for a variety of other properties, such as inward leakage of chemicals. Some of these are detailed as follows:

  • Abrasion resistance (Test Method EN 530-2)
  • Trapezoidal Tear Resistance (Test Method ISO 9073-4)
  • Tensile Strength (Test Method ISO 13934-1)
  • Puncture Resistance (Test Method EN 863)
  • Repellence to Liquids (Test Method EN 368)
  • Resistance to Penetration by Liquids (Test Method EN 368)

An Introduction to Chemical Resistant Standards

Some common standards of chemical-resistant protective equipment are listed here.

EN 13034 (Type 6)

This standard indicates that the garment is able to protect against a light spray or low volume splash of chemicals in cases where a complete molecular liquid permeation barrier is not required. This standard tests for four chemical types; acid, alkaline, aromatic hydrocarbon and alcohol.

Shop for Type 6 Coveralls

EN ISO 13982-1 (Type 5)

This standard specifies the minimum requirements for chemical protective clothing resistant to penetration by harmful air-born solid particles that might be inhaled or make contact with the skin. An example of harmful air-born solid particles might be asbestos.

This standard determines the level of inward leakage of the garment in a sodium chloride aerosol atmosphere. The total inward leakage (TIL) must be less than 15% for 8 test persons out of 10 to be awarded this standard.

Shop for Type 5 Coveralls

EN 14605 (Type 4)

This standard measures the liquid permeation of a garment under a spray, and can be taken as indicative of the fabric's behaviour when exposed to small splashes of chemicals. Garments that meet this standard will often feature taped seams to increase liquid tightness.

Shop for Type 4 Coveralls

EN 14605 (Type 3)

This standard tests the liquid permeation of a garment under a compressed jet of water of higher pressure than the spray of Type 4. Garments that meet this standard usually have liquid-tight taped seams, and can be safely used in circumstances where one might be splashed with harmful chemicals or lean on contaminated surfaces.

Shop for Type 3 Coveralls

Type 3 and Type 4 coveralls can be split into 6 different classes, depending on the time in which it takes a liquid chemical to break through the fabric or garment.

Permeation Classification Breakthrough Time
Class 1 >10 minutes
Class 2 >30 minutes
Class 3 >60 minutes
Class 4 >120 minutes
Class 5 >240 minutes
Class 6 >480 minutes

EN 374 and EN 166

These are the chemical-resistant standards for gloves and goggles respectively. These two standards will not be covered here as they are addressed in more detail elsewhere:

A Case Study: Supertouch Micromax NS Coolsuit Coveralls with Hood

Let's see if we can put this into practice. As an example we can use the Supertouch Micromax NS Coolsuit Coveralls with Hood.

Supertouch Micromax NS Coolsuit Coveralls with Hood
Supertouch Micromax NS Coolsuit Coveralls

The coveralls have received the following chemical-resistant standards:

  • EN 13982: Type 5 - Dry Particle Protection
  • EN 13034: Type 6 - Reduce Light Spray

What Does this Mean?

This illustrates that the coveralls will provide effective protection against light sprays of harmful chemicals, as well as solid air-born particles of harmful chemicals. Do not select chemical-resistant garments without first checking that they are able to protect against the specific chemicals that you will encounter as part of your work.

Where Can I Find More Chemical-Resistant Work Wear?

For further information and chemical-resistant work wear have a look through our Chemical-Resistant Workwear category!

If you have any questions or anything to add, then we would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below!