What is Level C PPE? All You Need to Know About Regulations and Certifications
Are you looking for more information about level C PPE and its certifications?
You clicked on the right article.
Have you ever wondered why most of our used PPE nowadays is considered Level C protective equipment?
We’re here today to answer this and give you more information about the difference between level C PPE, level A PPE and Level B PPE.
Welcome back to our series of articles about PPE levels.
In our previous two articles, we talked about Level A and Level B.
Today, we move down to the next level, C.
In the article, we will talk about the following:
- What is Level C PPE?
- When should you use Level C PPE?
- Respiratory protection in level C PPE
- Skin protection in level C PPE
- Level C PPE for hand protection
- Optional protective items in Level C.
- Who should use Level C PPE?
- Advantages of Level C PPE
- Disadvantages of Level C PPE
What is Level C PPE?
Before we proceed to Level C, let’s quickly review the previous levels.
PPE is classified according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the 1910.120 Regulation, PPE is categorized into four levels based on the degree of protection it offers (A is the most protective, while D is the least protective).
Moreover, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), protective clothing is classified into four categories (1, 2, 3, and 4), equivalent to the OSHA and EPA levels.
Level A PPE is used when the highest level of respiratory, skin, and eye protection is needed.
It’s used when hazards are unknown, and the concentration of the substance is suspected to be immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) to the skin and respiratory system.
Whereas Level B PPE is the second highest level of protection, it offers the same respiratory protection as Level A but less skin protection.
Level B is used when the concentration of the substance in the air is suspected or known to be a hazard for the respiratory system but not absorbed through the skin.
What about level C PPE?
Level C is the third level in the personal protection levels.
It offers the same level of skin protection as Level B but a lower level of respiratory protection.
Furthermore, it’s the most commonly used level of protective gear for workers.
Because most contaminants and risks found in HAZMAT (HAZardous MATerials) or working sites nowadays are below (OSHA’s) permissible exposure levels (PELs), this allows the workers to use fewer degrees of PPE.
So, what are the items included in the level C PPE ensemble?
Level C protective equipment ensemble consists of the following essential items:
- NIOSH-approved air-purifying respirators (APR) Half- or full-face masks (full-facepiece, air-purifying, canister-equipped respirators)
- Hooded chemical-resistant clothing (overalls, hooded two-piece chemical splash suit, chemical-resistant hood and apron, disposable chemical-resistant overalls)
- Inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves
However, some items can be optional according to the situation, such as:
- Chemical-resistant inner suit and escape SCBA
- Chemical-resistant safety Boot with steel toe and shank
- Disposable chemical-resistant outer boot covers
- Hard hat
So, now that we’re familiar with level C PPE and its components let’s see what situations require the use of level C PPE.
When should you use Level C PPE?
As we mentioned, level C offers the same dermal protection as level B but less respiratory protection.
Let’s dig more into this.
Level C PPE should be used when the type and concentration of the airborne substance are known.
When the type of substance in the air is identified, its concentration is known, and if the concentration is less than OSHA’s PEL, level C PPE is adequate for protection.
Level C PPE should be used when the criteria for air purifying respirator (APR) usage are met.
APR, part of level C PPE, can be used when all airborne contaminants are known and identified and their concentration is below both the PEL and IDHL levels.
In addition to the appropriate filters and canisters to be used with them.
Moreover, when the oxygen levels are adequate, meaning the atmosphere contains at least 19.5% oxygen.
These are the criteria that justify using the APR; thus, the same criteria justify using level C PPE.
Level C PPE should be used when the substance is not harmful to the skin
Level C PPE is used when it’s inevitable that contact with chemicals, liquid splashes, or environmental contaminants will adversely affect the skin.
Moreover, it is used when the possibility of eye and skin exposure or absorption is improbable.
Let’s see each item in the Level C PPE ensemble in detail.
Respiratory protection in level C PPE
Regarding respiratory protection, level C PPE is considered less protective than the above.
Level C PPE uses air-purifying respirators (APRs) instead of the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) used in the higher levels.
Let’s find out more.
Air Purifying Respirators (APRs) filter the air before it’s inhaled through filters, canisters, or cartridges to protect against particulates, dust, and some toxic materials.
This mechanical type uses multi-layer HESPA (High-Efficiency Synthetic Particulate Air Filters), ultra-low penetration air filters (ULPA), electrostatic filters, or membrane technologies to remove dust, particles, mists, and fumes (tiny metal particles) from the air.
Chemical Vapor and Gas Canisters
Use sorbent chemicals, such as activated charcoal or catalysts, to provide maximum adsorption for gases and vapors.
Combination cartridges and canisters
Use a combination of particulate filters and gas and vapor canisters.
The filters and cartridges are selected mainly based on the type and concentration of contaminants and particle size
Moreover, they’re labeled and color-coded for identification and can be removed and replaced once they expire.
Level C APR must be a NOISH-approved half- or full-facepiece APR or powered-air purifying respirator (PAPR).
Respirators that NIOSH does not approve should never be used for respiratory protection on a hazardous waste site or other jobs.
Half- or full-facepiece elastomeric air-purifying respirators APRs
These APRs let the air pass through replaceable cartridges or canisters to be filtered and exhaled through a valve near the chin.
They’re reusable respirators with a non-slip elastic strap that can be adjusted for maximum comfort and safe use.
The half-mask APR covers the nose and mouth only, while the full facepiece has a plastic lens that covers the face and offers protection for the eyes.
What about their protection factors?
Half-mask respirators have an APF of 10, whereas full-face respirators have an APF of 50.
Powered air-purifying respirators (PARRs)
These are reusable respirators with replaceable filters; they have half or full facepieces or a hood or helmet covering the nose, mouth, and eyes.
However, they work through a battery-powered blower that pulls air through filters or cartridges into the hood.
That’s why they are generally more protective than a non-powered half mask and far more comfortable to breathe through.
Moreover, they create positive pressure, thereby reducing the inward leakage of contaminated air.
PAPRs with a hood, helmet, or loose-fitting facepiece have an APF of 25, whereas a half-mask has an APF of 50, and a full-piece has an APF of 1000.
That’s why full-piece PAPRs are more appropriate and preferred for extended operations.
What about the certification and regulation of Level C respiratory protection?
Respiratory PPE must comply with OSHA’s respiratory protection standard in the US. (29 CFR 120.134).
On the other hand, in Europe, there are various standards for the requirements, testing, and CE marking of the APRs and PAPRs.
- EN 12941: For PAPRs with a helmet or a hood
- EN 12942: For PAPRs with full-face masks or half masks
- EN 143: For Particle Filters Used in the APR
- EN 14387: For the gas filters and combined filters used in the APR
Now let’s move to level C PPE for skin protection.
Skin protection in level C PPE
Level C PPE has the same skin protection as level B.
Put another way, chemical-resistant clothing or a suit should protect against liquid splashes but not against vapors or gases.
According to the NFPA 1994 and 1992, a Level C suit is a one- or two-piece garment usually made of butyl rubber, neoprene, PVC, or coated and laminated polyethylene fabric.
Level C suits provide skin protection against different hazards, such as:
- Hazardous dry powders and solids
- Bloodborne pathogens and biohazards
- Light chemical splashes and aerosols from inorganic acids and bases
- Moderate liquid chemical splashes from organic solvents
- Heavy liquid chemical splashes from toxins, corrosives, and known carcinogens
- CBRN agents, toxic industrial chemicals, and toxic industrial materials
The bunker gear of the firefighters is also considered a level-C equivalent.
It consists of flame- and water-resistant pants and an overcoat worn with the helmet, fire-resistant gloves, footwear, and hood.
What about the certifications and standard testing of level C suits?
Level C suits should comply with the NFPA 1992 Standard on Liquid Splash Protective Suits for Hazardous Chemical Emergencies and be tested to resist permeation, degradation, and penetration.
Permeation is the dissolving of chemicals through the fabric of the suit on a molecular level.
The permeation resistance is measured by the time it takes for the material to permeate through (breakthrough time).
Level C suits should show no breakthrough for more than one hour when tested according to the ASTM F739 or ISO 6529 standards for permeation resistance.
Degradation is the change in the physical properties of the suits because of chemical exposure, frequent use, or environmental conditions.
It could be in the form of swelling, deterioration, discoloration, or loss of physical strength.
Degradation can be determined through visual observation in addition to the tests found in the ASTM D-471 and ASTM D-412 standards.
It is the movement of chemicals through zippers, seams, or imperfections in a protective clothing material.
Level C PPE suits are tested according to the ASTM F903 standard for penetration resistance for low-hazardous chemicals.
Moreover, they must resist liquid penetration against low-volatility or high-vapor-pressure liquids for a specific time.
Therefore, it goes through some additional testing, 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
In Europe, level C suits must adhere to the following:
- EN 14325. Tests assessing the physical properties of the garment and its construction
- ISO 16602 general protective clothing requirement for protection against chemicals
- EN 943 standard for protection against liquid and gaseous chemicals
- EN 14605 standard for protection against liquid and liquid spray
- EN ISO 13982 standard for protection against airborne pathogens
Now, let’s move on to the final essential item in level C PPE, the chemical-resistant gloves.
Level C PPE for hand protection
Gloves are designed to protect our hands against various risks, such as physical, chemical, and biological ones.
Level C PPE includes gloves with chemical resistance to various chemicals and mixtures.
These gloves should comply with the EN ISO 374 standards for chemical-resistance gloves, according to 29 CFR 1910.138 for hand protection.
Let’s find out more about them.
Chemical-resistant inner gloves
Inner gloves are the same as in levels A and B.
They’re nitrile gloves that offer excellent resistance to various chemicals.
In addition to their famous tactile sense and touch sensitivity, they are highly dexterous and protect against cuts and punctures.
As a result, they are the preferred choice when dealing with small quantities of biological and chemical hazards.
Natural rubber latex gloves have some chemical resistance but not as much as nitrile, so they are recommended for handling small volumes of aqueous-based low-hazard chemicals.
In addition, latex allergies make them a less favorable choice as chemical-resistant gloves.
Chemical-resistant outer gloves
Outer gloves are usually made of neoprene, butyl rubber, or Viton, and it’s recommended that they be at least 14 mm thick.
However, when used by first receivers, this can be inconvenient; thus, they employ double-gloving techniques.
Neoprene gloves have unmatched protection properties against environmental factors such as oxidation, ozone, and sunlight, in addition to high temperatures.
In addition to their excellent strength, they offer chemical resistance against many chemicals, including alcohols, corrosive pesticide chemicals, organic and inorganic acids, and alkalis.
Butyl rubber gloves
Butyl rubber gloves are durable and resist many chemicals, including highly corrosive acids, strong bases, alcohols, ketones, and esters.
Moreover, they usually come with long sleeves for added protection.
Viton gloves are superior to all other types of gloves regarding chemical resistance.
To explain more, they resist 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.
Now that we’ve gone through the essential respiratory APRs and PARRs and the chemical protective suits and gloves included in level C PPE let’s find out more about the optional protective items.
Optional protective items in Level C
Level C PPE for Eye Protection.
Eye injuries can result from things like
- Rubbing the eye with things like dust or cement.
- Penetration of the eye by nails or metals
- Chemical and thermal burns from handling chemicals, pesticides, or cleaning with detergent, etc.
- Infectious pathogens such as bacteria or viruses
These can lead to eye irritation, inflammation, infectious diseases, and permanent vision loss.
When using level C PPE, this means that the likelihood of an eye injury is minimal. However, some situations can require the use of eye protection.
For example, when there’s a risk of chemical splashes, fumes, gases, harmful particulates, or specks of dust.
Level C PPE can offer eye protection through hooded or full-face respirators in these situations.
However, you may need extra protection through a face shield or safety goggles.
In the U.S., Level C PPE for eye and face protection should comply with 29 CFR 1910.133 and be tested according to ANSI/ISEA Z87.
In Europe, it is tested according to the following standards: EN 166, EN 167, and EN 168.
Level C PPE for foot protection
Level C PPE for foot protection is butyl rubber or nitrile boots with a steel toe and shank.
They are required to prevent foot injuries from chemical exposure to corrosive chemicals or fall risks from heavy objects.
They are mainly used in the following:
- Handling or applying moderately or highly toxic pesticides
- Floor stripping with corrosive chemicals
- Chemical paint removal
- Waste and sewer collection
- Concrete work
- Applying tar and asphalt
Level C PPE for foot protection should comply with 29 CFR 1910.136 regulation in the US and be accordingly tested by one of the following standards ASTM F-2412 and ASTM F-2413 or ANSI Z41.
In the meantime, EU standards can be found in
- EN ISO 20345, and EN ISO 20347 Standards for Safety Footwear
- EN 13832-2 Chemical-Protective Footwear
Level C PPE for head and neck protection
Level C PPE ensembles include an optional hard hat to protect the head from dangers such as impacts, the falling of heavy objects, dripping or splashing chemicals, and heat exposures.
They can be used in industrial laboratories, power plant work, tunnel work, carpentry, and welding work.
Level C PPE for head and neck protection should comply with the ANSI Z89.1 standard in 29 CFR 1910.135 or EN 397 in Europe.
Now that we understand all about level C PPE and its certifications, let’s find out more about who should use this level.
Who should use Level C PPE?
First responders in the yellow zone
The “yellow zone” is the area where both the contaminants and their concentration are known, and it’s used to decontaminate patients or victims.
First responders in this zone should also protect themselves against secondary contamination by wearing level C PPE.
The selection of respiratory protection in the yellow zone depends on the Acute Exposure Guidelines Levels (AEGL).
If the AEGL air levels are:
Greater than AEGL-2, A NIOSH-certified CBRN tight-fitting APR with a canister-type gas mask or CBRN PAPR is used
Greater than AEGL-1, A NIOSH-certified CBRN PAPR with a loose-fitting face-piece, hood, or helmet and a filter or a combination of organic vapor, acid gas, and particulate cartridge/filter combination or a continuous flow respirator is used.
First responders in radiation-only events
When there’s a radiation-only event with a high risk of contamination, e.g., a radiological dispersal device (RDD), Level C PPE is the minimum used level for sufficient respiratory and dermal protection.
RDD is also called a “dirty bomb,” an explosive device surrounded by or contaminated with some form of radioactive material that’s spread when the bomb explodes.
Nevertheless, this level is the minimum, and it’s designed only for protection against the inhalation of radioactive particulates. It does not consider protection against other contaminants, such as chemical or biological agents.
Aeromedical isolation team
The Aeromedical Isolation Team (AIT, or SMART-AIT) is a rapid response team of the US Army designed to evacuate and manage contagious patients with biosafety level 4 contaminants (BSL-4).
These contaminants are highly infectious diseases that can be transmitted by aerosols and cause severe to fatal diseases in humans for which there are no vaccines or treatments, such as the Ebola virus, smallpox, anthrax, and plague.
In the BSL-4 laboratories, employees only wear Level A PPE because they need the highest levels of skin, eye, and respiratory protection.
Meanwhile, the AIT team wears a plastic suit and a PAPR fitted with HEPA filters, known as the Racal suit.
The Racal Suit is also known as the Racal space suit or the orange suit. and it’s similar to level C personal protective clothing.
First receivers are the first team members that care for and receive contaminated victims in the event of mass casualties from an accidental release or terrorist attack involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agents (CBRN).
This includes decontamination team members, clinicians, set-up crews, clean-up crews, security staff, and patient tracking clerks who provide medical care at locations away from the site of the HAZMAT release.
To illustrate, they can be injured by secondary exposure to hazardous substances when they treat contaminated patients.
That’s why they must protect themselves by wearing the right PPE before delivering medical care.
Level C PPE offers adequate respiratory and skin protection for the first receivers, especially when the contaminants are still unknown.
Level C PPE should be worn until the risk is cleared, and a risk assessment indicates that a lower level is sufficient for protection.
However, putting on PPE shouldn’t delay delivering treatment to patients in need.
To illustrate, gloves shouldn’t reduce manual dexterity, and the APR or PAPR shouldn’t hinder the movement of the first receiver.
Moreover, the double-gloving technique is recommended, especially when working with patients who may not have been thoroughly decontaminated.
Additionally, taping the inner glove to the sleeve facilitates easier removal of the outer glove.
Pesticides risk human health because they can enter the body through the skin, eyes, mouth, or lungs.
Pesticide workers can be exposed during mixing, loading, applying pesticides, or even when cleaning the equipment used to apply them.
Therefore, wearing PPE is essential for their protection.
Level C PPE is especially required for pesticide workers in the following situations:
- Mixing, filling a spray tank, or applying WHO Classes I and II pesticides
- Fogging in greenhouses and stores
- Spraying upwards with a handheld lance.
- When there is a high concentration of liquid aerosols in the air, < 0.3 µm.
Asbestos workers are responsible for moving, handling, and removing asbestos from mines and construction sites.
When asbestos is inhaled frequently, it can be harmful to the lungs.
Long-term and frequent hazardous exposure causes serious health events such as fibrotic lung disease, 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.
That’s why asbestos workers often wear full hazmat suits of level B or level C PPE to minimize contact with asbestos.
Let’s see level C PPE in terms of its advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Level C PPE
Level C PPE is considered the most common level in many situations and has multiple advantages over higher levels.
For example, it offers full body coverage and, at the same time, increased mobility compared to both Level A and Level B.
Because the respirators and the suits are lightweight and easier to carry and wear, you can move easily and quickly.
This significantly contributes to less physical, heat, and psychological stress.
What’s more, Level C PPE offers longer operation times with no limitation to air supply because it doesn’t use another source of air; it uses the air around you for supply.
Finally, the hooded respirators in level c PPE don’t need fit testing.
However, this level also has its drawbacks.
Let’s go through them.
Disadvantages of Level C PPE
Level C PPE is the third level of protection, meaning it doesn’t provide the highest levels of protection.
Therefore, it is not sufficient in some situations, such as
- Chemical emergency responses
- High-concentration environment where the airborne hazard is IDHL
- Unknown contaminants and concentrations
- The atmosphere with oxygen levels of less than 19.5%
- High splash contamination.
Moreover, periodic monitoring of the air levels is required when wearing level C PPE to ensure that the particulate levels are in the same acceptable ranges.
Additionally, APR with facepieces requires fitting tests, and communication through the full facepiece or the hooded APR can be difficult.
On the other hand, the PAPR needs to be fully charged to work properly, and in case of battery failure, this can lead to the entry or leakage of contaminated air into the facepiece mask, helmet, or hood.
Additionally, they can be noisy to wear due to the sound of the battery-dependent blower.
We have reached the end of our article, and we hope you have everything you need on Level C PPE.
Feel free to send us a message if you still have questions about the levels of PPE.
We look forward to seeing you on the next level!