Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Importance of Personal Protective Equipment

An exterminator works yesterday (Saturday) inside the Huntington Public Library, which was closed Friday after bedbugs were found.

The above photo was published with the Newsday article "Huntington library fumigated for bugs."  It is an interesting photo from a health and safety perspective.  The article discusses the fumigation of the library using a chemical called Nuvan to eliminate the bugs.  If we look up the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)for Nuvan 7 (Visit for the MSDS for Nuvan 7), we learn this chemical is poisonous if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin and eyes.  Based on the picture and the assumption that the worker is working with this chemical as the picture implies.  The worker is not wearing the right safety equipment or as we call it in the industry, personal protective equipment or PPE.  Since this chemical can be absorbed through the skin and eyes, the tyvek suit the worker is wearing in the photo is the proper PPE to protect his body.  However, since the worker is not wearing gloves or goggles this chemical can absorb into the worker through his hands or eyes.  If the amount absorbed is sufficient it could be fatal as the MSDS indicates.  The worker in the picture is missing gloves (nitrile is recommended type of glove on the MSDS), in addition his shoes or the coverings over his shoes should also be chemical resistant (we can't see this so we don't know if this is correct or not), and chemical resistant gogggles are required, too.  The half-mask air purifying respirator (APR) the worker is wearing seems to be correct since the cartridge appears to be purple (typically the color for HEPA cartridges) and black (the color associated with organic vapor cartridges, and specified on the MSDS).  However, the worker is wearing the respirator incorrectly.  The straps for the respirator always go under the hood of the protective suit.  This way when you take off the contaminated suit the respirator can remain on until you have decontaminated yourself.  For the worker in the picture to take off the suit, the worker would first have to take off the respirator exposing the worker to the chemicals that were on the suit.
On final item, it is our experience that when wearing a half-mask APR, like the one in the photo, together with goggles always causes problems.  When the goggles are worn on the face with a respirator the goggles typically do not seal properly on the face.  Since the MSDS requires workers to wear eye protection with this chemical (Nuven 7), we would recommend using a full-face air purifying respirator to make sure the eyes are protected, instead of the half-mask APR.  
All of these issues indicate a possible lack of training (or is it showmanship for the article) of the worker wearing the PPE.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to be trained in hazard communication (how to read MSDS) and using PPE.  It is very important that workers are properly trained on the hazards they are exposed to and trained on the correct PPE for working with chemicals.  This training and knowledge is what Keeps Employees Safe!

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