Laboratory Clothing and Protective Apparel
The clothing you wear in the laboratory can affect your safety. Do not wear loose (e.g., saris, dangling neckties, oversized or ragged laboratory coats), skimpy (e.g., shorts, halter-tops), or torn clothing in the laboratory. Loose or torn clothing and unrestrained long hair can easily catch fire, dip into chemicals, or become ensnared in apparatus and moving machinery. Skimpy clothing offers little protection to the skin in the event of chemical splash. If the possibility of chemical contamination exists, cover any personal clothing that you wear home with protective apparel. Finger rings can react with chemicals, and you should avoid wearing them around equipment with moving parts. Appropriate protective apparel is advisable for most laboratory work and may be required for some. Such apparel can include laboratory coats and aprons, jump suits, special boots, shoe covers, and gauntlets, which can be washable or disposable in nature. Commercial garments are available to protect from chemical splashes or spills, heat/cold, moisture, and radiation.
Laboratory coats help prevent contact with dirt and the minor chemical splashes or spills encountered in laboratory-scale work. The cloth laboratory coat is, however, primarily a protection for clothing and may itself present a hazard (e.g., combustibility) to the wearer. Cotton and synthetic materials such as Nomex® or Tyvek® are satisfactory, whereas rayon and polyesters are not. Laboratory coats do not significantly resist penetration by organic liquids. Remove your lab coat immediately upon significant contamination.
Do not take lab coats home and launder them because of the potential for contamination of the home environment. Currently, University Auxiliary Services offers a service through an outside vendor (e.g., Servitex) to clean, fold and press lab coats, or to clean, dry, and fold other items (lab cloths or towels). Contact University Auxiliary Services at 919-962-1261 for costs and to arrange for pick-up and delivery of lab coats. Check with your department’s business manager to find out if your department already has an arrangement for laundering lab coats. Plastic or rubber aprons provide better protection from corrosive or irritating liquids but can complicate injuries in the event of fire. Furthermore, plastic aprons accumulate a considerable charge of static electricity, so avoid use in areas with flammable solvents or other materials ignitable by static discharge.
In some cases, disposable outer garments (e.g., Tyvek®) are preferable to reusable ones. One example is handling appreciable quantities of known carcinogenic materials, for which EHS also recommends long sleeves and gloves. Wear disposable full-length jump suits for high-risk exposure situations, which may also require the use of head and shoe covers. Many disposable garments, however, offer only limited protection from vapor penetration and you need to exercise considerable judgment when using them. Impervious suits fully enclosing the body may be necessary in emergencies.
Know the appropriate techniques for removing protective apparel if contaminated. Chemical spills on leather clothing accessories (watchbands, shoes, belts, etc.) are especially hazardous, since many chemicals absorb in the leather, which holds the chemical close to the skin for long periods. Remove such items promptly and decontaminate or discard them to prevent chemical burns.