Is the Personal Protective Equipment Recommended on the SDS Enough?

February 25, 2021

Choosing the right PPE for chemical management in the workplace – Chemscape Safety Technologies

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) exists to tell you how to protect yourself from chemical product hazards, how to handle the product safely, and what to do in an emergency. The author of an SDS only considers the intended use of the product. They use a GHS-format, product test results and information from health and safety resources and regulatory bodies like NIOSH, NFPA, ACGIH to provide a recommendation on chemical exposure and appropriate controls

How to Determine Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment

There are two sections on the SDS that address personal protective equipment (PPE): 

  • Section 8: Exposure Controls and Personal Protection – for chemical handling PPE recommendations and 
  • Section 6: Accidental Release Measures - for PPE requirements in the event of a leak or a spill. 

The information on an SDS is a starting point for choosing PPE; you also need to consider the work task when selecting PPE. If you are a safety professional or a supervisor, you need to identify the correct personal protective equipment for the job. This process may need to include consulting an occupational hygienist, product and equipment suppliers, or a safety committee.

Perform Risk Assessment Prior to Selecting PPE

Health and safety legislation requires employers to perform risk assessments to identify hazards before an employee is assigned a task and to train employees on the proper use of PPE and how to read an SDS.  

There may be other necessary controls as part of worker protection, including engineering controls like fume hoods, first aid equipment like eyewash stations, spill kit and fire extinguishing material. 

Do I use the PPE recommended directly by the SDS?

The PPE listed on the SDS is a general recommendation; sometimes it does not recommend specific PPE, like glove type or respirator cartridge. When using an SDS for PPE you need to consider how the product is being used at your workplace. This determination is part of a chemical hazard assessment.
Selecting the appropriate PPE for a task depends on how the product is being used, the quantity being used and the frequency of use, etc. These variables affect the risk of worker exposure. As the risk goes up your controls will need to increase.

Chemical hazard assessment questions may include:

How is the product used?

The risk may increase if the chemical product is sprayed or produces aerosol droplets. If a product is heated or produces harmful vapours or fumes the risk of exposure will increase.

What are the hazards of the product? 

The more hazards listed for a product, as indicated by GHS pictograms, the risk of exposure to a hazardous product increases. As the toxicity of a product increases, the risk also increases. 

How much of the product will I be using?

Substantial amounts of a chemical product used increases the risk. Smaller, contained amounts decreases the risk.

What is the length of time I will be exposed to the product?

Are workers using the product all day or for 15 minutes or less? There is a significant difference.  

How often will I be using the product?

Do workers use the chemical product every day, once a month or once a year. Do not forget the once a year for a whole week scenario, it counts too. 

What are the engineering controls at the workplace?

Engineering controls reduce the risk of exposure while working with a hazardous product. However, if they are insufficient, not maintained or checked for effectiveness worker protection falls back on PPE.

Are there special situations to consider?

Confined space work or simultaneous operations, flammable or noisy environments can potentially expose the worker and add another layer of PPE to consider. The need for workers to retain dexterity and movement are common considerations for wet or cold work, medical professions, and construction.

Examples of when to enhance the recommended PPE on an SDS:

There are many circumstances when the SDS-recommended PPE will differ from what is needed for your workplace. The SDS may list coveralls as a requirement. If you work in the manufacturing industry, regular coveralls may be sufficient for your workplace; but if you work in Oil and Gas, Fire Resistant coveralls are required to step onto a worksite.  

Your workplace may have simultaneous operations where there may be a risk of exposure to other chemical hazards not directly related to the task. For example, possible accidental exposure of a process gas leak. In this case, you will want to add a personal monitor to the PPE requirements.  

If the task involves work in a confined space, you will need to increase respiratory protection to supplied air.  

These examples should illustrate why it is important to consider the task and workplace, as well as the PPE listed on the SDS. Interpretation of the recommendations based on a hazard assessment for your workplace is a chemical safety best practice.  

Remember PPE is the last line of defence and has its own limitations, such as:

  • PPE does not eliminate the health or physical hazards of the chemical. 
  • PPE can provide a false sense of security. 
  • PPE itself can add a new hazard to the job. 
  • PPE can restrict comfort, breathing, vision and movement. 
  • PPE increases the risk of heat stress and dehydration. 
  • PPE can create psychological stress for the worker.  
  • PPE needs to be in good working condition to be effective.