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A HazMat Suit is worn by people working with Hazardous Materials and in conditions that would threaten their health and safety. These special outfits consist of Personal Protection Equipment (PPM) which is carefully selected to be suitable for the application at hand. These range from:
- extinguishing fires when exposed to high heat, smoke and unidentified combustibles
- handling and cleaning corrosive, toxic or unstable chemicals
- operating in zones with high levels of radioactivity
- administering medical assistance and sanitizing areas contaminated with biological agents or live pathogens
|Handling Hazardous Materials|
The Yellow Hazmat Suit has become iconic for representing PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) in use in toxic environments. While the most visible part of a HazMat Suit is the head to foot garment, the wearable gear usually includes boots, gloves, face shield or goggles, breathing apparatus or gas mask. When a fully encapsulating one piece suit is used it includes a full hood with window, a self contained breathing apparatus and a supply of clean breathable air contained inside the suit, with emergency backup air supply. The addition of Communications gear provides the wearer with a medium to coordinate his efforts with others when encapsulated in the isolation of the suit.
The outfit can be pressurized to prevent contaminants from entering the suit through even the slightest gaps in its fit or tears experienced during usage. Pressurization is a key distinction and required when dealing with Biological and Nuclear agents. Gas tight suits should more thoroughly protect the wearer, with the exception of radiation or high heat. Radiation can be ameliorated with shielding in the lining. Insulation and reflective materials help control high heat. A suit designed primarily for splash protection has no accommodation for dust, gas or particulate exposure.
Working with Hazardous Materials while wearing HazMat coveralls can be arduous and result in exhaustion within very few minutes, depending on the ambient conditions. Great care must be exercise at all times to prevent rupturing, cutting or otherwise puncturing the protective envelope the suit provides. Upon completion of a worker’s tasks, a careful process of wash down and decontamination must take place prior to removing the suit. Contaminated suits are a hazard themselves, may not be reused and must be disposed of properly.
In the United States the various degrees of protection provided by HazMat suits are classified into Levels of A, B, C, or D. In Europe a system of Types break down into Type 1 though Type 6 is used.
HazMat Suits, also known as a CBRN Suit (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) and formerly in the military as a NBC Suit (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) are available from major manufacturers. Originally developed in the war torn world of the 1940s, the rubber enhanced coveralls opened from the front and were combined with a filtered breathing mask.
Today a variety of suit types are produced to provide different levels of protection, and for exposure to different dangerous materials. The Flash Suit shown below is designed to protect the worker from head to toe from sudden exposure to fire and heat. The foil covered suit can also be insulated, along with gloves and boots, to the worker to perform critical tasks in an environment that is or may suddenly become inflamed. Workers who are putting out oil field fires, or maintenance of refineries or petroleum storage facilities, require a completely enclosed and pressurized HazMat Suit, with separate air supply and communications gear.
On the other end of the protection spectrum, standard fire department turn-out gear, a rubberized coat or coveralls, boots with steels shanks and toes and rubber insulated gloves, provide the minimum protection. Because both home and industrial fires often involve the combustion of toxic chemicals in the form of plastics, solvents, paints, building materials, insulation, appliances and even office equipment and computers, there is a nationwide effort to train first responders in the proper use of HazMat Suits. Whether for national security issues, or the dangerous of accidents at industrial plants, research laboratories or in the transportation of hazardous substances, the protection of our first responders is key to all of our health and safety.
As technology advances, and the presence of hazardous or potential hazardous materials proliferates, its essential that communities be prepared to quickly deploy highly trained personnel to address dangerous situations as they happen. This requires both careful training and the proper equipment. The prospect of terrorist acts involving biological, radioactive or chemically hazardous substances, further increases the need for domestic preparedness. Firefighters, police, medical personnel, hospital emergency room staff and of course our deployed and reserve military forces, are all trained in the use of hazmat gear.
Popular television shows and other forms of entertainment have placed the yellow hazmat suit and PPE coveralls as both tools to convey concerns for the influences of modern technology on our safety, and as costumes to be worn to express the somewhat macabre and darkly ironic nature of the benefits of advances in science. While somewhat frightening for what they have come to represent, a hazmat suit is actually a tool that when used by skilled professionals, serves a critical role in industry, scientific research and disaster recovery.