What PPE Should You Wear When Working With Asbestos
When working with asbestos it’s imperative that you take your PPE seriously and understand the minimum required gear. If you do not protect yourself sufficiently, you could inadvertently inhale asbestos fibres which can lead to serious health problems including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
The HSE has complete PPE guidelines for working with asbestos but we explain the essentials below so you and everyone involved can work safely.
Overalls or coveralls are your primary means of getting contaminated with asbestos and they protect your legs, arms, body, and head.
Ideally, you should have Type 5 disposable overalls (Complying with BS EN ISO 13982-1+A1). These are specially designed for asbestos protection and the following guidelines should be observed when choosing and wearing your overalls:
- It is preferable to wear overalls that are one size too big to help prevent any accidental tears and exposure.
- Wear a short-sleeved top underneath the overalls as this makes it easier to cover your arms and they are easier to cover over a long-sleeved top.
- If you find the cuffs of the arms and legs are lose, use tape to seal them so that there is no gap where asbestos fibres could enter.
- The legs of the overalls should be worn over your footwear. If you tuck them into your socks, you can accidentally trap asbestos dust.
- After usage, the overalls must be disposed of in the same manner you dispose asbestos waste i.e. using the correct waste disposal bags.
Type 5 overalls do not have glove attachments therefore it is advisable to wear separate disposable gloves. Ideally, they should be single-use gloves that can be thrown away. Latex gloves are acceptable, but they should only be “low-protein powder-free” gloves. As with the overalls, the gloves must be disposed of in the same manner as asbestos waste after use.
For footwear, you can use disposable overshoes, but they are not advisable as they greatly reduce the grip and traction on the bottom of your feet. You could end up slipping, causing an injury, or even tearing your coveralls and exposing yourself to asbestos.
Instead, unlaced boots are preferable. These are the easiest to clean as opposed to laced boots where it can be virtually impossible to clean the laces properly and remove all dust traces.
Respiratory Protective Equipment
The respiratory protective equipment is THE most important piece of PPE. Wearing the correct protective mask will prevent the accidental inhalation of any asbestos fibres. The HSE advised one of the following types of respirator:
- Disposable respirator (EN 149 Type FFP3 / EN 1827 Type FMP3)
- Half mask respirator with P3 filter (EN 140)
- Semi-disposable respirator with P3 filter (EN 405)
The mask should be sized appropriately so it covers your face properly, and the coverall hood should be worn over the mask straps.
If you have facial hair or stubble, a fully hooded respirator should be worn instead and the above respirators are not suitable. The above are also all only suitable for short-term use and any periods of extended work with asbestos requires the use of a power-assisted respirator.
Having access to and wearing the correct PPE is essential, but you and anyone conducting the work should also be aware of usage guidelines and how to wear the gear properly.
Ideally, you should have a plan in place that includes emergency actions if PPE becomes damaged or fails. All workers should have their PPE pre-tested and have a fitting before starting work to make sure that it fits properly and they are comfortable wearing it and how it works. This could include an inspection from your site health and safety coordinator.
Adequate training must be given to everyone involved so that they know the following:
- How to properly wear the PPE.
- Be able to identify any problems with the PPE such as damage and loose fittings.
- Be able to check the PPE is performing as expected.
- Know the correct disposal procedure inline with asbestos waste removal guidelines.
- Be aware of action plans that individuals must take such as advising coworkers to leave the area if their PPE has malfunctioned.
The RPE gear (Respiratory Protective Equipment) must also be stored properly, maintained regularly, and kept away from potential contamination when not in use.
All disposable PPE should be placed into asbestos waste bags for disposal.