How Do Hazmat Suits Work?
Hazmat suits (short for hazardous materials) are suits that are meant to keep the wearer from contacting harmful substances with which they are working. Hazmat suits are full-body suits which should be accompanied by other protective clothing such as goggles, gloves, boots, and breathing masks. There are different classifications of hazmat suits—each with a different level of protection. The levels vary from A to D and each provide protection from different substances.
Level A hazmat suits are the most protective suits on the market. They offer the highest level of protection for respiration, skin, and the eyes. They keep out gases, vapors, and tiny airborne particles. These suits are extremely complex as they are pressurized and have full face-piece self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA). The suit itself must be completely chemical-protective and must be totally encapsulating. It must entail inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves, and steel-toe boots which are also chemical-resistant. Coveralls, long underwear, and a hard hat underneath the suit are optional depending on the application.
Level B hazmat suits are slightly less protective. They must have the highest level of protect for respiration, however the level of protection for the skin is not as high. The same SCBA and pressurization must be present, along with many of the same components including chemical resistant gloves, boots, and full-body suit.
Level C hazmat suits are one step down from this. They are resistant to airborne substances in cases where the concentrations and types of these substances is known and deemed less of a threat than scenarios which would require Level A or B protection. Level C hazmat suits require masks with air-purifying respirators, and much of the same clothing elements as Levels A and B. Coveralls, hard hats, boots, and face shields are optional if the situation calls for them. More equipment is usually a safer bet than less.
Level D suits are minimal protection suits. These are considered for “nuisance” contamination, and do not require the same sort of respiration equipment or chemical protection as the other levels. Generally, these suits have much of the same parts but with lower quality material.
Having the right type of hazmat suit for the job is crucially important to worker safety, but so is disrobing the suit. Safe removal of hazmat suits is incredibly important because it is during the removal that workers are at the highest risk of coming into contact with the substance with which they have been working. All protective gear should be removed by rolling it down from head to toe without your skin touching the outer parts of the clothing. This should be done in isolation and be fully removed before exiting the isolation area.
Courtesy of OSHA