Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is designed to help mitigate the amount of dust, airborne organisms, or vaporized particles that could potentially contaminate a cleanroom. Reducing these particles contributes to the health and safety of the room’s occupants and the integrity of the products in the room.
PPE Clothing Standards
While there are currently no OSHA standards that are specific to cleanroom PPE, the industry at large recognizes which PPE components and materials provide the highest level of protection to users while reducing particle distribution.
Components should include:
- Bouffant hat
- Intersuit (worn underneath the coveralls)
- Boot covers
Each piece of clothing should wholly and securely cover the designated area of the body. For instance, a user should wear a hood securely to reduce hood movement. Masks and goggles or safety glasses should be worn in the same manner. Essentially, all PPE clothing should provide maximum coverage and minimum movement without limiting the user’s ability to work.
When worn collectively, each of these components prevents particles from exiting or contacting the body. Users should remove their PPE upon leaving the cleanroom and reapply the clothing upon entering the cleanroom. Wearing the protective clothing outside the cleanroom can attract particles, which compromises the sterilization of the clothing.
The type of fabric that users wear inside the cleanroom depends on the health and safety risk they will incur each time they are exposed to the products or materials in the room. In general, most experts recommend using PPE that is made from polyester. Polyester does not collect lint or other particles as easily as other fabrics. It also does not break down as easily during sterilization.
PPE with anti-microbial finishes is becoming more popular in equipment production and food processing setting due to its ability to resist contaminants when inside the cleanroom. If workers need protection from chemical splash protection in controlled environments, companies should purchase PPE with fabric weaves and multi-layers that create a reinforced barrier against splashes. Another option for controlled environments is a non-woven fabric that is overlaid with an impenetrable coating.
Reusable PPE options include durable, coated, a plastic material with minimal, liquid-tight or taped seams and Velcro fasteners. Fabrics that work well against molten splash protection include synthetic-based weaves and wool blends.
Disposable Clothing vs. Reusable Clothing
What should companies consider when choosing between disposable clothing and reusable PPE?
- Associated PPE costs such as products, disposal, and laundering or sterilization
- How suitable the PPE is for wearing
- Comfort, ease, and freedom from constraint
- Procedure for disposal
- Ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage
Reusable clothing requires specific considerations. For instance, there are several opportunities for contaminants to attach to reusable PPE during the cleaning process or when in transit from one location to another outside the cleanroom. There are also strict guidelines for handling, cleaning, and sterilizing reusable PPE.
Purchasing Cleanroom Clothing
When purchasing cleanroom clothing companies should adhere to the following guidelines:
- Clothing should match risk and hazard analysis specifications.
- Cost should not be the most important factor. When pricing clothing, companies should prioritize material durability and properties that reduce cleanroom particle distribution or contamination.
- Some disposable PPE clothing can be used multiple times. Users should check manufacturer specifications to determine how often a disposable garment can be worn.
- Companies should custom-purchase all clothing to meet or match each user’s measurements. Companies should also have emergency supplies of all sizes on hand.
- PPE products should be individually sealed and packaged and ready to store inside the cleanroom.
Developing a Cleanroom PPE Program
Employers should develop a cleanroom PPE program that includes protocols and procedures for wearing, changing, and cleaning, transporting, and purchasing PPE. Programs should also include training procedures for all employees before wearing PPE inside a cleanroom, as well as staying current with PPE standards, regulations, technology, products, and industry trends.
By enacting a cleanroom PPE program, companies can keep everyone aligned with the same standards and expectations, as well as ensure the safety of all employees.
Managing cleanroom PPE requires a proactive and methodical approach that is geared toward reducing or eliminating room contamination and protecting employees from toxic substances. Companies must continuously monitor and update all processes and procedures for purchasing, cleaning, transporting, and wearing cleanroom PPE. Doing so will reduce injuries, maintain a sterile environment, and increase a company’s production, ensuring its sustainability for years to come.