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What are Hazmat Suits and What You Should Know About Them

Hazmat suits are being spotted more in the public eye due to the devastating outbreak of the Ebola Virus since March 2014. While many people think of hazmat suits as weird-looking, earthly spacesuits, this protective gear serves as a level of protection for trained personnel against hazardous materials. So what exactly are hazmat suits? According to Wikipedia.org, Hazmat suits or Hazardous material suits are classified as personal protective gear, in other words, gear that is designed to suit the wearer’s body to protect against hazardous materials. Hazardous materials would typically include explosives, gases, liquids, radioactive agents, pathogenic and/or viral diseases, etc. (Source: Healthtraining.inhs.org) – .pdf document Because hazmat suits are nominally sealed from outside exposure, equipment known as the self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA are combined with the protective gear. WHO USES HAZAMAT SUITS? Hazmat suit wearers include any trained personnel who handle hazardous materials. These include persons working in Medical and Healthcare Facilities, Fire Stations, Nuclear Sites or Laboratories, Biological Laboratories, etc. THE DIFFERENT LEVELS OF HAZMAT SUITS Despite the standard hazmat suit often shown through the media, there are actually different types of hazmat suits that are used depending on the type of hazardous material as well as the situation surrounding the toxic materials. At the basic level, hazmat gear comprises of “an air and water-proof oversuit”, boots, gloves and hood. These separate gear pieces are taped at the ankles and the wrists to prevent exposure. However, the different levels of Hazmat suits (as classified in the United States) are: Level A, Level B, Level C, and Level D. Level A Level A Hazmat suits are worn when handling increasingly dangerous substances and thus provide more layers of protection. Hazmat-suit.com describes the protective gear as a “life-support system” as the suit is equipped with SCBA, chemically protective gloves and boots outlined with “steel shanks and toes”, and a complete face mask with a hood. These suits are also equipped with emergency air and two-way communication devices, including a cooling fan, among other pieces of equipment. Level B Often designed as a two-piece suit, Level B Hazmat gear is similar to that of Level A, with the exception being that the breathing apparatus is located on the outside of the gear, and thus vulnerable to toxic vapors. Level C Level C Hazmat suits do not utilize the SCBA technology like its counterparts Levels A and B; however, Level C Hazmat breathing apparatus consists of masks, air filters and respirators. Level D Offering the least bit of coverage are the Level D Hazmat gears. These gears, though ‘light’ in comparison to the others, are equipped with chemical resistant overalls, steel toes and shanks on boots. No breathing equipment is utilized. (Source: Hazmat-suit.com) To ensure the level of suit to be used, it must be reiterated that the classification of the hazardous material must be known in order to select the most applicable gear. Once these suits have been used, these trained personnel must be further decontaminated before the suit is removed and disposed of. RESOURCES For more information on Hazmat Responders, Training Requirements and Suits, visit the following website: Also, feel free to visit the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website for more details regarding the handling of Hazardous Materials and Hazmat Suits.