Permasure is a unique free-to-use app that calculates instant safe-wear times for chemical suits. It uses advanced molecular modelling techniques originally developed in conjunction with the UK Ministry of Defence to improve protection for military and civil defence staff against chemical warfare agents. Permasure® makes this technology available to industrial users.
Most importantly Permasure® solves the problems resulting from the very common misinterpretation of permeation test data (one of many PPE myths) and the failure of current garment selection methods to account for the effect of real world conditions such as temperature that currently mean many users of chemical suits may well be less protected than they think, or worse are not protected when they believe they are.
You can read more about what it is and how it works here, but how useful is Permasure®? What are the practical applications and what are the benefits? Why is it gradually becoming a must-have tool for managing chemical hazards in the workplace?
This blog considers three specific scenarios in which Permasure can result in improved protection, more effective safety clothing selection and better safety management of tasks involving hazardous chemicals, with the overall impact of improving the approach to health and safety for hazardous chemicals.
Example 1. The First Responder or Fire-Fighter
"Improved safety and confidence when responding to incidents involving chemical hazards"
Modern fire-fighters do much more than put out fires. In many parts of the world, the increasing success of building regulations and fire prevention strategies means the number of fires has reduced – whilst incidents where the primary hazard is a chemical may well have increased. Fire-fighters and first responders working on or near chemical sites, ports, and industrial areas, may have to quickly respond to incidents involving a hazardous chemical. And with thousands of chemicals in use every day who knows what chemical that might be? In many cases responders will not be advised what chemicals are involved until the last minute.
The problems for rapid response to an incident involving hazardous chemicals.
In these rapid response situations there are two major problems for ensuring safety:-
- Availability of data
Most existing information on chemical protection offered by safety clothing is based on permeation test data and is necessarily limited – to at most a 100-200 chemicals (permeation tests are expensive). If data is not already available it could take weeks to get additional information on specific chemicals from suit manufacturers. Even if it is available it may be impossible to get an immediate response in the short time available. So responders may be forced to enter the hazard area with no real knowledge about whether their suits will protect them or not. In such situations it may well be a case of just hoping for the best.
How Many Chemicals are Actually in Use?
That’s not 84,000... but its still a lot of chemicals… and Permasure® covers nearly half of them! Most suit manufacturers' test data is unlikely to cover even 10%...
Permasure's database includes over 4000 chemicals. In seconds, a user can log into the smart-phone app and immediately access essential hazard data on the specific chemical including, whether it presents a skin, eye or respiratory hazard; what the basic consequences of contact might be… short term irritation or burns or chronic effects such as cancers, organ damage and so on; and finally an indication of the chemical’s toxicity level. It is basically an encyclopedia of chemical hazards installed in your smartphone!
- How relevant can lab-based test data be to the real world?
It is an inescapable fact that test data is not based on the real world. Permeation tests are conducted in laboratories where fabric is conditioned and maintained at 23oC and constant humidity (this is required by the test standard to ensure consistency and comparability).
Temperatures in warmer regions will commonly be over 30oC or 40oC and even in more temperate climates summer temperatures can considerably exceed the 23oC used in tests. The problem is that at higher temperatures permeation of a chemical through a fabric will happen more quickly. In fact, a permeation rate may double with every increase in temperature of 10oC… so at 40oC or more two to three times the volume of chemical can permeate fabric compared to what is indicated by a permeation test.
Permasure® however, models permeation rates and calculates safe-wear times based on real world conditions adjusting for temperature and vapourisation. In just a few clicks, the user can input likely suit and chemical temperature and in seconds a safe-wear time is calculated. Temperatures can then quickly be changed to see the effect, if any on safe-wear time.
Unlike test data, this is based on the actual temperatures to be experienced in the incident, and so is more realistic and accurate than information provided by a test. It provides the user with a practical indication of how long a suit can be safely worn against the specific chemical before a level of contamination that could be hazardous to health is reached. The app even includes data on most major chemical warfare agents so can be a very useful tool for civil defence forces.
Permasure was originally developed by a UK company working in conjunction with the UK Ministry of Defence to use well-understood molecular modelling techniques to develop better methods of maintaining protection for soldiers against battlefield use of chemical warfare agents.
Permasure® has a pedigree that is second to none.
So in scenarios where a first response team is responding to an emergency incident there no need to rely on limited, unrealistic and inaccurate test data. In seconds, and on the move - perhaps en route to the incident - the Permasure® user can access two vital pieces of information
1. Information on the hazard presented by the chemical
...and with over 4000 chemicals included there is a good chance the information will be available. This can help advise on the type of PPE required and the relative hazard presented; it can be very useful to know if the hazard is short term skin irritation, serious burns or possible chronic illness.
2. A safe-wear time
An indication of how long the chemical suit in use can be worn safely if contamination occurs. This ensures users can remain within the time in which hazardous levels of contamination could be reached.
This ability to gain real-world instant information on how long a suit can be worn safely against over 4000 chemicals means for fire-fighters and those responding to incidents involving hazardous chemicals Permasure® can be a vital tool in ensuring effective protection and achieving greater confidence in protection when responding to emergencies.
Example 2: The Site Safety Manager
"Improved planning and potential for reduced PPE costs for new chemicals coming on site"
A major processing plant may have several hundred chemicals on site at any one time, many of which can have disastrous long term consequences if contamination of a worker occurs. In addition a rapid turnover of new projects and process means new chemicals may be coming on site on a regular basis.
So when a project involving chemicals new to a site is planned, how does the safety manager know the current chemical suit used will protect operators effectively? How can they be sure unsafe levels of contamination will not occur?
Frank Schaaf, Head Nurse at the major Evonik chemical processing plant in Antwerp told me some years ago during an interview for a related article how this task would involve a potentially lengthy step-by-step process with numerous complications that in reality often means delay and uncertainty and sometimes means being unable to obtain information at all.
Establishing Safety Procedures
for Hazardous Chemicals
For the effective safety manager, establishing whether an existing chemical suit will effectively protect against a new chemical coming on site can be a painful and lengthy business:-
Given how long it could take, preparation for ensuring adequate protection against new chemicals coming on site may need to start at least several months in advance…
And of course, even once permeation test data is available, knowing its limitations regarding what it actually means and in terms of the effects of temperature, the diligent safety manager must then consider all the possible complicating issues… temperature, hazard, toxicity and so on and how they might effect safe-wear time for any chemical protective clothing selected. The fact is, if all you have to go on is permeation test data… this comes down to a lot of guesswork!
With Permasure® the game changes.
When a specific plant or project manager has new chemicals coming on site and needs to know which suit can be used and for how long it can be safely worn, the correct suit can be selected and a summary of safe-wear times – at different temperature levels that might occur – can be generated within seconds. Clearly this is a huge step forward in effective safety management.
Does Permasure mean higher PPE costs?
But there is another benefit. With a lack of permeation test information and uncertainty about how effective it is even if available, wide safety margins must invariably be built in and often the safest option is to select the highest level barrier suit available – the suit which is also probably the most expensive.
With the more accurate and reliable information provided by Permasure® however, more targeted protection can be used; workers need not be over-protected and the result can be a reduction in PPE spend.
This was precisely the case for Frank Schaaf at Evonik. Not only did the easy availability of more accurate information mean more effective protection, it also resulted in a reduction of PPE costs.
EXAMPLE 3: Safety Managers AND Emergency Responders
"Superior information and safety planning for existing chemicals on-site or commonly used chemicals"
In the Antwerp plant, the job of Head Nurse includes being charged with managing safety and monitoring the health of several hundred employees and contractors on a site that could have as many as 350 chemicals in use at any one time. Many of these chemicals are in permanent or regular use, and creation of a health and safety plan includes establishing accessible information on how workers should be protected in any task or application where contact with them might be a risk.
Furthermore, on-site emergency crews that might need to respond to incidents involving any one or more of these 350 chemicals also need quick access to information should any incident occur.
As we have seen the limitations of permeation test data and the challenges created by varying temperatures (in Antwerp, like much of northern Europe and many other regions of the world, temperatures may vary between 0oC and 35oC depending on the season, so permeation rates of a chemical through a suit fabric can be much faster in July than they might be in January). Frank Schaaf understood this and was keen to establish comprehensive information about safe-wear time of chemical suits for every chemical on site and for all the conditions likely to occur. When a plant manager came to him with a request of which suit to wear and for how long against chemical X, he wanted to be able to provide an effective answer quickly.
Given the limited and uncertain information available that can be derived from permeation test data, this was a time consuming and frustrating business involving manual calculations and assumptions about the effect of temperature. In fact, all too often it meant simply settling on recommending the highest level (and most expensive) suit available… just to be sure. That is, it was time consuming and frustrating until Permasure® came along.
Creation of effective chemical safety planning files
Permasure® allows timely and easy creation of protective and safe-wear time information and guidance on many chemicals (over 4000 in fact!). Information that is:-
- More accurate. The well-established molecular modelling techniques used by Permasure® produce predictions of permeation rates and volumes permeated that are intrinsically more accurate than a lab-based permeation test.
- More comprehensive and flexible. Whilst permeation test data is limited to the defined temperature and controlled condition of a laboratory, Permasure® takes account of these variations in the real world.
- Easily accessible and almost instant. Whereas the manual calculation of safe-wear times is a frustrating, time consuming and uncertain business, the wealth of accurate and comprehensive information available from Permasure® is accessible with just a few clicks on a smartphone.
As a result a safety manager is able to easily produce comprehensive information sheets on safe-wear times that cover suit type, temperature variations, hazard information and so on. These can be kept on file so that site managers, supervisors and users can quickly access them should the need arise. The same might be possible without Permasure® but it would take months or even years, and would be much less accurate.
What Can You Achieve With Permasure®?
Permasure® allows the creation of comprehensive internal “chemical safety sheets” such as the example shown in the image below:-
This includes hazard data, links to a more detailed data sheets on the ECHA web site, collates all known information on test data and Permasure®-generated safe-wear times with recommendations for different suits and at a range of different temperatures.
It is a safety guide for a specific chemical and kept on file can be easily referenced by safety or site managers, users and emergency response personnel.
Permasure® allowed Frank Schaaf to generate just such safety information. Files containing all required information can now be easily accessed by plant managers, first responders and chemical suit users, providing them with more timely and more effective safety planning.
So now when a site manager needs to know what suit to use and for how long, they get an answer not... in weeks or months... but in minutes...
Conclusion: Changing the Game.
"More effective health and safety planning, more targeted protection and more accurate and comprehensive information".
The accuracy, extent and ease of information provided by Permasure® changes the game for safety managers looking to ensure effective management of chemical hazards in the workplace. It heralds:-
- Instant access to hazard data and toxicity of over 4000 chemicals
- Greater confidence that workers will remain safe
- Improved management of tasks to ensure protection is as it should be
- More comprehensive and much quicker response for emergency situations
- The potential for reductions in PPE spend because information is more accurate and protection more targeted
- Improved safety information records; in the event of an accident and subsequent investigation a business has better filed information proving that effective measures had been taken to ensure safety.
Simply put, you can dramatically improve
And the best thing of all?
There is no charge. Permasure® is entirely free to use…
Find out more about Permasure®, how it works and how to register here.