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PPE Explained: Safety Colors, Types & Levels of Personal Protective Equipment

Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to workplace safety, especially when it comes to handling hazardous materials. It does not matter how experienced and careful your workers are, protective gear must be worn to provide head-to-toe protection. Without PPE, there are higher chances of accidents, injuries, and even fatalities.

In this post, we explain the different levels of personal protective equipment available to waste disposal professionals. We will have a look at the importance of PPE, types of safety colors, different types of gear, and the varying levels of protection.

How to Ensure Employee Protection & Safety

For most people, a mask and gloves are all that’s required to handle potentially hazardous waste, especially at home. But when you’re in the business of disposing of hazardous materials, as we are, protective gear becomes much more important—and more complex as well.

While on the job, our staffers here at WasteXpress must be properly protected from head to toe. We work with a large number of hazardous chemicals from hospitals, aerospace manufacturers, pharmacies, laboratories, schools, and construction sites, so we must guarantee that the selected personal protective equipment is tough enough to stand up to the dangerous substances at hand. 

OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) oversees employee protection across the country. OSHA states that there are two ways to protect employees: 1) Through engineering, by building a protective divide between workers and risks; and 2) By changing the way that employees do their work in order to offer greater employee protection. If engineering solutions are not possible, employers must provide PPE to keep employees safe in the face of hazards such as flying sparks, sharp edges, noise, and poisonous chemicals.

OSHA & ANSI Safety Colors

The colors on the signboards are not randomly selected. Instead, they each have a special meaning. OSHA and ANSI have standardized some safety colors to make the identification of hazards easier. Both these organizations have separate meanings for different colors, and the person working in the hazardous area should know what these colors mean.

2 Types of OSHA Safety Colors

There are only two OSHA safety colors for marking physical hazards.

  • Red: Red is used for two purposes. One is to mark the fire-related hazards, and the other to mark the emergency buttons or switches.
  • Yellow: Yellow is used to mark physical hazards, such as trips, falls, stumbling, and striking against hazards.

5 Common ANSI Safety Colors

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has given more attention to safety colors. There are ten standardized safety colors, but below we’ve listed the most commonly found.

  • Red: Used for most severe hazards, in which serious injury or death is inevitable. These are used for fire hazards and fire equipment.
  • Orange: Used for dangerous machines and equipment.
  • Yellow: Used to warn workers that wrong and unsafe practices can lead to injuries.
  • Green: Used to indicate general safety measures.
  • Blue: Used for notice signs and safety precautions.

Types of PPE

There are various types of safety clothes to protect different parts of the body from hazards. Some of the common types of PPE are:

  • Eye Protection: There are different types of goggles available according to the severity of the hazard.
  • Head Protection: Helmets are commonly used for head protection. They have different colors indicating the type of the job of the wearer.
  • Ear Protection: Earmuffs and earplugs.
  • Skin Protection: Special dress or clothing. They are usually a long sleeve shirt and pants.
  • Foot Protection: Special boots are used to protect fingers and feet.
  • Hand Protection: Gloves are used to avoid contact with chemicals and other substances. The type of the gloves depends on the type of the hazard.
  • Respiratory Protection: Masks are used to filter unwanted particles.

4 Levels of PPE

For sites with chemical hazards, as most of our job locations are, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has specified four different levels of protection, as outlined below:

Level A PPE

This is the highest level of protection for the skin, eye, and respiratory systems. Level A PPE is required in the highest risk situations. Some examples of protective gear suitable for Level A situations include a full-face-piece SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), a totally sealed off chemical- and vapor-protective suit, and inner and outer layers of chemical-resistant gloves.

Level B PPE

This level of protection is set aside for situations that require strong respiratory protection with less safeguarding for the skin. Hazardous waste sites often contain gasses in lower concentrations than required for Level A protection. Examples of protective gear at this level include chemical-resistant clothing with a hood, chemical-resistant boots, and a full face-piece SCBA.

Level C PPE

This level of hazardous protection is similar to the Level B standard, but the main difference is that in Level C situations, the atmospheric concentrations of hazardous gasses are such that an air-purifying respirator is enough to protect workers.

Level D PPE

Level D is the lowest protective level specified by the EPA. This is the level required for workers when no noxious chemicals are present and/or when work conditions prevent dangerous splashing or potential inhalation of toxins. A worker suiting up for a Level D situation might have a face shield, coveralls, gloves, safety glasses, and chemical-resistant steel-toed boots.

Safely Dispose of Your Hazardous Waste with WasteXpress

We have been serving small businesses and Fortune 500 companies throughout the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years. Protecting workers is crucial for anyone dealing with hazardous materials and here at WasteXpress, we pride ourselves on an outstanding facility track record of safely disposing of hazardous waste while protecting workers. Our workers are always equipped with personal protective equipment  according to the needs of the waste site.

Call 855-224-3206 or fill out our online form to get a free estimate within 24 hours.

Contact Us

11615 North Lombard Street, Portland, OR 97203

5812 S Adams St # B, Tacoma, WA 98409

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