Are you wondering about level B PPE? What makes it different from Level A? And what distinguishes it from lower levels?
Level B personal protective equipment is the most commonly used ensemble, and we’re back to telling you everything you need to know about it.
Welcome back to our series of articles about levels of PPE. PPE is designed to protect us from injuries and illnesses.
They protect against chemical, physical, biological, radiological, electrical, mechanical, or other hazards.
Additionally, there are different types of PPE for the respiratory system, skin, eyes, ears, hands, and all other different body parts.
But no PPE protects against all kinds of hazards.
That’s why they were classified, starting with A as the most protective category, whilst D is the least protective one.
Now let’s find out more about level B.
This article will discuss what Level B PPE ensembles are when used, who should use them, and what items they include.
In addition, we will find out: What makes a level B ensemble different from the lower levels of PPE? and how much skin protection is compromised if you use it?
Comparing its advantages and disadvantages as well.
When does Level B protection become necessary?
PPE is classified according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the 1910.120 regulation, Appendix B, PPE is divided into four levels based on the degree of protection it offers.
Moreover, protective clothing PPE levels are classified according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) into four categories (1, 2, 3, and 4), equivalent to the OSHA and EPA levels.
At first, it would seem that level B PPE is not very different from level A PPE.
Even though level B is the second-highest level of protection, it doesn’t protect your skin as much as level A does.
Let’s explain more.
Level B is required where the highest levels of respiratory protection are needed, with a lesser level of skin protection.
On the other hand, level A PPE is needed when the most significant levels of the skin, respiratory, and eye protection are needed.
Therefore, the main difference here is that level B doesn’t provide the same skin protection as level A.
Level B PPE protects against liquid splashes but not against gases or vapors.
What does this mean, and when is it used?
There are three situations when level B PPE is needed.
The substances present are hazardous to the respiratory system but not the skin.
Level B PPE is used when the concentrations of substances are IDLH (immediately dangerous to life and health) and are known to be a severe inhalation hazard but not a severe skin hazard.
IDLH is the maximum concentration level of a substance that a person can escape from within 30 minutes of exposure without experiencing immediate or delayed irreversible adverse health effects or death
There’s a gas or vapor, but it’s not harmful to the skin.
Level B PPE is used when there’s an incompletely identified vapor or gas in the area, but it is not suspected to have high levels of chemicals that could be harmful to the skin or absorbed through the skin.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “Level B protection is the minimum level recommended on initial site entries until the hazards are identified and defined by monitoring, sampling, and other reliable methods of analysis, and equipment consistent with those findings is applied.” (1)
The atmosphere contains less than 19.5% oxygen.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines an “Oxygen-deficient atmosphere” as any atmosphere where oxygen levels are at a concentration of less than 19.5%
These atmospheres are immediately dangerous to life or health.
At an oxygen concentration of 15–19%, a person experiences symptoms of increased heart and breathing rates, impaired thinking and attention, as well as a decrease in physical and intellectual performance without being aware of it.
Furthermore, when it falls below 15%, people begin to feel emotionally upset and experience abnormal fatigue with poor judgment and coordination.
Finally, at oxygen concentrations below 10%, immediate loss of consciousness may occur without warning, convulsions, and death.
Therefore, these oxygen-deficient atmospheres require the highest levels of respiratory protection, which Level B PPE offers.
What items are included in the level B PPE ensemble?
What does the level B PPE ensemble include?
Level B PPE consists of the following essential items:
- Positive-pressure, full-facepiece self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or positive-pressure supplied air respirator with escape SCBA.
- Chemical-resistant clothing “overalls and long-sleeved jackets, coveralls, a hooded two-piece chemical splash suit, and disposable chemical-resistant coveralls.”
- Inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves.
- Outer chemical-resistant steel toe and shank boots.
- Boot covers outer, chemical-resistant (disposable).
Meanwhile, some items could be optional according to the situation, such as:
- Hard hat
- Face shield
- Long cotton underwear to absorb sweat
- Disposable protective suits or and gloves (worn outside the Level B suit to protect the expensive suit and gloves)
Let’s find out more.
What makes a level B ensemble different from the lower levels of PPE?
For respiratory protection level, B PPE contains a positive-pressure, full-facepiece self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or a positive-pressure, supplied-air respirator with an escape SCBA.
Since Level B is required when the highest level of respiratory protection is needed, it must have the most reliable respirators, which can only be achieved with SCBA.
SCBA is considered the one thing that distinguishes level B PPE from the lower PPE levels.
What exactly are they, and how do they work?
SCBAs provide pure, dry, and compressed air from a different source than the surrounding environment.
They protect against oxygen deficiency, dust, gases, and vapors.
Therefore, they’re used in various fields such as firefighting, rescue operations, escape training at fire stations, iron works, chemical plants, nuclear facilities, etc.
Let’s look at what makes them the most trustworthy respiratory protection.
Full-facepieces provide extra eye protection.
Meanwhile, positive pressure blows out the air to keep contaminants out in case of a seal failure or leakage through gaps, which helps the user breathe more accessible as it decreases the load caused by drawing air through filters like in other types of respirators.
That’s why SCBAs offer better protection than other respirators; moreover, SCBAs have the highest assigned protection factor (APF) of all respirators (10,000).
Negative-pressure SCBAs are not permitted for HAZMAT incidents because contaminants may enter the facepiece. (2)
If SCBA isn’t available, a positive-pressure-supplied air respirator (SAR) with an SCBA-type auxiliary escape respirator should be used in the level B PPE ensemble.
This SAR supplies air through a full facepiece connected to an air source away from the contaminated area through an airline.
As a result, SAR can be used for more extended periods.
Moreover, SAR has an assigned protection factor (APF) of 1000, and since level B PPE is used when respiratory protection is most needed, SAR should have an SCBA-type auxiliary escape respirator.
To protect against harmful gases, vapors, and fumes if the SAR somehow fails.
What about the Level B PPE regulations and certificates for respiratory protection?
Respiratory PPE must comply with OSHA’s respiratory protection standard in the US.
SCBA should, in particular, comply with NIOSH 42 CFR Part 84, subpart H.
Moreover, SCBAs used by firefighters or emergency services must comply with the NFPA 1981 standards.
On the other hand, in Europe, there are various standards for the requirements, testing, and CE marking of the SCBA.
What about skin? We’ve mentioned that level B is used when less skin protection is needed; does this mean that level B compromises our skin when used?
Let’s find out.
How much skin protection is compromised for level B PPE?
The protective suit significantly differs between level A and level B PPE.
According to NFPA 1991, Level A PPE must be a fully encapsulating, gas-tight, and vapor-proof suit.
Level B PPE, on the other hand, is a liquid splash protective suit as defined by the NFPA 1992 and 1993.
According to the NFPA 1992, Level B PPE ensembles can be one- or multiple-piece garments with single or multiple layers.
Furthermore, those garments may or may not be encapsulated, but they’re usually non-encapsulating.
That’s why they’re often elasticized at the wrist and ankle and provided in four sizes with an interface for the respirator, gloves, and footwear.
So, does this compromise the skin?
No, it’s of the highest protection levels meaning that this non-encapsulating chemical protective (NECP) suit provides chemical protection, but it is not vapor-tight and does not protect the head or neck.
It’s not suitable for use in situations where there’s exposure to vapors or gases that can be absorbed through the skin.
How about its certifications and standardized tests?
The suit is usually made of butyl rubber, neoprene, PVC, or coated and laminated polyethylene fabric.
Level B PPE suit must meet the minimum strength, durability, and functionality standard.
The EPA Level B Suit follows the NFPA 1992 Standard on Liquid Splash Protective Suits for Hazardous Chemical Emergencies.
By all means, it should be resistant to a wide range of chemicals, including chemical warfare agents (CWA) and toxic industrial chemicals (TIC).
The materials should resist permeation, degradation, and penetration.
It is the process by which a chemical dissolves in or moves through materials on a molecular level, meaning there is no visible evidence that the material permeated through the suit.
The time it takes for the material to permeate through the material is called breakthrough time.
To explain, suit materials that show no breakthrough for more than one hour are usually considered to have acceptable performance.
It is the physical change in the suit’s material due to chemical exposure, use, or environmental conditions (e.g., sunlight).
It’s usually presented as discoloration, swelling, loss of physical strength, or deterioration.
In addition to the visual changes observed, Level B suits are tested using:
ASTM D-471 standard test method for rubber properties and the effect of liquid at various time variations
ASTM D 412 for tensile strength and ultimate elongation after chemical exposure or after chemical evaporation
It is the movement of chemicals through zippers, seams, or imperfections in a protective clothing material.
Level B PPE suits must meet ASTM F903 standards for penetration resistance.
To illustrate, this is a simple visual test to measure resistance to penetration and is used for lower-hazard chemicals.
Moreover, the suit must be made of a material that resists liquid penetration against low-volatility or high-vapor-pressure liquids for a specific time.
There are some additional tests the suits should meet, such as
- ASTM Standard Guide F1001-86 for liquid and gaseous chemicals
- ASTM D2136-02 Standard Test Method for Coated Fabrics for Low-Temperature Bend Test
Moreover, some suits can be certified to meet optional criteria, such as chemical flash fire for escape purposes.
Meanwhile, level B suits in the EU must adhere to the following:
- EN 943 standard of protection against liquid and gaseous chemicals.
- EN 14605 standard of protection against liquid chemicals.
With all of this in mind, it’s essential to understand that no single material protects against all chemicals and combinations of chemicals and that no currently available material is an effective barrier to any prolonged chemical exposure.
Now that we’ve covered the most essential items in Level B PPE, let’s find out more about the other protection items.
More information about various items in Level B PPE
Level B PPE ensemble has other items to cover hand, feet, eyes, and head protection.
Let’s go through them.
Level B PPE for hand protection
Gloves protect the hand against different hazards and exposures.
They should provide safety, dexterity, and comfort during work.
Level B PPE should include gloves with chemical resistance to a wide range of chemicals and mixtures according to the EN ISO 374 standards for chemical-resistance gloves according to 29 CFR 1910.138 for hand protection.
There’re inner and outer gloves, and both should be in five sizes.
Chemical-resistant inner gloves
The chemical-resistant inner gloves in the level B PPE also comply with level A.
They’re usually made of nitrile.
Nitrile gloves are highly resistant to a wide range of chemicals.
Additionally, they are highly dexterous with tactile sensitivity, and they protect against cuts, abrasions, and punctures.
Sometimes disposable silver shield gloves are used as liner gloves for added protection.
They’re thin and lightweight, robust, and tear-resistant.
Moreover, they resist many chemicals (over 280 types).
Chemical-resistance outer gloves
Outer gloves are usually recommended to be at least 14 mm thick.
They’re usually made of neoprene, butyl rubber, or Viton.
1. Neoprene gloves
Neoprene gloves are exceptionally protective against environmental factors such as oxidation, ozone, and sunlight, in addition to high temperatures.
They’re strong and durable, with excellent tear, wear, and chemical resistance.
They resist hydraulic fluids, gasoline, alcohol, corrosive pesticide chemicals, organic and inorganic acids, and alkalis.
2. Butyl rubber gloves
Butyl rubber is exceptionally durable, with unmatched resistance to many chemicals, including highly corrosive acids, strong bases, alcohols, ketones, and esters.
Moreover, they’re thick and durable, with long sleeves for added protection.
They are also resistant to abrasion, oxidation, and ozone corrosion.
Due to their high permeation resistance to gases and water vapors, they are one of the best outer gloves for levels A and B PPE.
3. Viton gloves
Viton gloves are superior to all other types of gloves regarding chemical resistance.
To explain more, they resist fuels, highly corrosive chemicals, aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, and xylene, as well as chlorinated solvents.
However, they are more expensive and mainly used to handle extremely hazardous chemicals, such as carcinogenic or highly toxic chemicals.
Viton gloves are highly recommended when it comes to level B PPE.
Level B PPE for Eye protection
According to the CDC, about 2000 U.S. workers get a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment, and about one-third of them are treated in hospital emergency departments. (3)
Eye injuries can result from striking or scraping the eye with a harmful object, such as dust or cement.
Furthermore, they can be due to the penetration of objects through nails or metals.
Moreover, it could be due to chemical and thermal burns from handling chemicals, cleaning with detergent, etc.
This can lead to eye irritation, inflammation, infectious diseases, and permanent vision loss.
PPE for eye protection is essential.
Level B PPE ensembles contain full-face respirators that usually provide eye protection, and sometimes the suit contains a PVC face shield.
However, a face shield or safety goggles can be used separately.
Level B PPE for feet protection
Safety shoes are required to prevent various foot injuries resulting from chemical exposures to corrosive chemicals or fall risks of heavy objects.
Level B Safety shoes are outer chemical resistant boots made of butyl rubber with steel toe and shank
They should comply with 29 CFR 1910.136 for foot protection in the US.
This regulation, boots should be tested according to one of the following standards:
- ASTM F-2412 and ASTM F-2413
- ANSI Z41
In the meantime, EU standards can be found in
- EN ISO 20345 and EN ISO 20346 Standards for Safety Footwear
- EN 13832-2 Chemical-Protective Footwear
- EN ISO 20347 Occupational Footwear
- EN 15090 for Firefighters’ Footwear
Level B PPE for head and neck protection
Level B PPE ensembles usually have hard hats worn under suits as needed.
Safety helmets protect the head from dangers such as impacts, the falling of heavy objects, dripping or splashing chemicals, and heat exposures.
Level B PPE should comply with the ANSI Z89.1 standard in 29 CFR 1910.135 for head protection or EN 397 in Europe.
Now that we’re familiar with all the items in the level B PPE ensemble let’s see who should use them.
Who should wear level B PPE?
Anyone at risk of exposure to highly toxic chemicals in the respiratory system that cannot be absorbed through the skin should wear Level B PPE.
Let’s go through some occupations that should use this level.
Level B is used for emergency workers and first responders like firefighters, the army, law enforcement drug response teams, and hazmat teams.
Because they are the first to enter the chemical and vapor-contaminated areas, Level B PPE is the minimum level required for this entry.
In accidental releases and terrorist attacks, first responders are exposed to chemical warfare and biological agents.
Many of these hazards can cause severe respiratory damage; when these materials are not suspected of being absorbed through the skin, level B PPE is sufficient for protection.
Asbestos workers are responsible for moving, handling, and removing asbestos from mines and construction sites.
When asbestos is inhaled frequently, the tiny pieces get stuck in the lung forever, causing lung irritation.
Long-term and frequent unsafe exposure causes serious health events such as fibrotic lung disease (asbestosis), which can lead to reduced respiratory function and death and increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the membrane that covers the lungs.
Each year, around 90,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases, and an estimated 125 million are at risk of occupational asbestos exposure. (4)
That’s why asbestos workers often wear full hazmat suits of level B PPE when working with the substance to minimize contact, especially respiratory contact.
Pest control technician
Pest control technicians work in confined spaces with hazardous chemicals to eliminate pests such as mice, bedbugs, cockroaches, and other insects.
Chemicals classified as Category I and II toxins, necessitate the use of a hazmat suit to protect against chemical burns or inhalation, as they are fatal if inhaled.
That’s why pest control technicians should wear level B PPE when handling this level of toxicity.
Workers in the chemicals, petrochemicals, and mining industries
People who work in the chemical, petroleum, and mining industries are more frequently exposed to chemicals.
They handle liquid and gaseous chemicals such as chlorine, hydrochloric acids, sulfuric acids, and anhydrous hydrogen chloride.
Moreover, they are exposed to airborne contaminants at surface mining sites, including silica, coal dust, diesel particulate matter, and radioactive particles like uranium, thorium, and radium.
All these contaminants are extremely dangerous to human health, and wearing the right type of PPE (Level B) is the key to keeping you safe.
Level B PPE has some drawbacks that you should be aware of despite its excellent protective qualities.
Let’s explore them.
Disadvantages of level B PPE?
Level B PPE is the second-highest level of protection. Their applications, however, have some limitations.
Level B PPE offers less protection than level A PPE.
When you’re using level B PPE, there’s a risk of exposure to vapors and gases because the suit is not gas-tight.
And actually, using duct tape to seal the suit interfaces doesn’t match the encapsulation required for protection against gases or vapors.
So, if you’re in an environment where vapors and gases from the chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, level B won’t provide you with the protection you need and might expose you to danger.
Level B PPE has a limited air supply and mobility
If you will use the SCBA, the air supply is limited to 1 hour.
In the meantime, the airline used in SAR can sometimes limit your mobility. This can result in trips or falls or prevent you from completing tasks comfortably and effectively.
Level B PPE can cause heat and physical stress.
Wearing a full-body chemical protective suit puts you at risk of heat stress.
This could result in heat exhaustion or more severe consequences.
The heat stress depends on the environmental conditions, the task required, and individual differences in responses.
Furthermore, suits can be bulky in addition to the weight of the SCBA, causing physical stress.
in addition to some severe effects such as increased demand on the heart as well as psychological stress like anxiety or claustrophobia (6)
Therefore, they require medical clearance and monitoring.
Level B PPE requires fit testing and training.
In addition to the fitting tests of the respirators, to use level B PPE, you must be trained and certified through a PPE management program.
Because such high levels of PPE require you to know how to use, maintain, store, don and doff them correctly.
Otherwise, you might endanger yourself if you’re not trained to use them.
Sometimes it can be confusing to decide which level of PPE you should use, which is why risk assessment for situations is critical.
Specifically when you’re comparing levels A and B.
However, it can depend on answering two simple questions, such as, “Do you intend to use the PPE for vapor or liquid protection?” And “does the situation need protection for the skin against vapors that can be absorbed, or is it more focused on lung protection?”
If the answer to these two questions is that only liquid protection is needed and more respiratory protection is preferred, then Level B PPE is your wisest choice.
By the end of our article, we hope you now have all the answers you were looking for about level B PPE.
If you still have further inquiries, please send them to us.
See you in the following article.