Personal protective equipment: Hazardous materials

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Personal protective equipment


Fire and rescue services (FRS) should recognise that in line with the concept of the hierarchy of controls in risk management, personal protective equipment (PPE) forms the last line of defence for an individual working in a hazardous environment. Legislative requirements such as the Control of Asbestos Regulations require fire and rescue services to prevent or control the exposure of personnel and others to hazardous substances whilst at work. However, when fire and rescue service personnel attend hazardous materials, there may be few alternatives to using PPE as a risk control, particularly when saving life or preventing damage to the environment. It is therefore vitally important that fire and rescue services understand the advantages and limitations of available PPE ensembles. This can only be achieved by understanding the performance standards and level of protection afforded by PPE ensembles.

Several PPE ensembles are available to fire and rescue service responders. Rarely does one ensemble protect the wearer against all foreseeable hazards. Selecting hazardous materials PPE must be the result of a risk assessment carried out at the scene of operations.

In general, when pre-planning for hazardous materials incidents, PPE should be considered in three distinct areas:

  • Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – to prevent exposure to harmful substances through inhalation and ingestion
  • Chemical protective clothing (CPC) – to prevent exposure through skin contact and penetration
  • Protection against other foreseeable hazards, for example, fire, extreme heat or cold or projectiles

Structural firefighting PPE should be the common default position for fire and rescue personnel whilst en route and during the initial attendance. Subsequent actions determined by the incident commander, and subject to an appropriate risk assessment, may require crews to wear additional or alternative PPE. The PPE chosen by responders should be suitable and sufficient for the tasks that need to be carried out. There should be a basic analysis of what needs to be done and the hazards that are likely to be encountered.

To select the most appropriate PPE the incident commander will have decided the tasks to be carried out and the hazards that may be encountered. The choice of PPE should consider the joint understanding of risk (JUR) and information available from other responder agencies. They will then choose the ensemble that provides the greatest level of protection against the most dangerous foreseeable hazards. Seven basic factors will generally determine the level and type of protection required by responders:

  • Fire – Is fire or a flammable atmosphere present? Most chemical protective clothing (CPC) should not be used in fire situations
  • Toxicity – Primarily via inhalation, but also consider ingestion or skin exposure
  • Corrosiveness – From weak or strong concentrations of acids or alkalis
  • Oxidation – Where there is a reaction with organic materials, producing heat and oxygen
  • Temperature – Where the substance is at an extreme of temperature, whether hot or cold
  • Biohazards – From pathogens and open cultures
  • Radiation (ionising) – Whether involving an unsealed source or not

To determine the level of PPE required at the initial response phase of an incident involving hazardous materials in a transport scenario, reference may be made to the Dangerous Goods Emergency Action Code List (EACs), also known as Hazchem codes. These codes give the emergency services an indication of the actions that may be necessary during the first few minutes of an incident involving dangerous goods should the incident commander consider it necessary to take immediate action.

Additional personal protection (APP) codes give emergency responders more information on appropriate levels of chemical protective clothing. These codes do not appear on vehicle placards or on emergency action code (EAC) cards but are available in the Dangerous Goods Emergency Action Code List (EAC) list, generally through fire control rooms or mobile data terminals.
Initial operational response (IOR)

Operational personnel responding to initial operational response (IOR) incidents must be competent to wear self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and be aware of the requirement for minimum crews of two personnel. They should be rigged in a minimum of structural firefighting PPE and SCBA, and where available, should consider wearing nitrile type gloves (as in road traffic collision protocols) beneath their fire gloves.

The use of structural firefighting PPE and SCBA should only be used during the initial stages of the incident to undertake immediate lifesaving activities, and the incident commander should confirm that there are saveable lives before implementing a rescue plan.

During later phases, activities such as mass decontamination may be necessary. When carrying out such activities, PPE such as gas-tight suits (GTS) and powered respirator protective suits (PRPS), identified in existing guidance should be used.

Operational personnel should be aware of the requirements to limit deployments in the hot zone for a maximum duration of 15 minutes for deliberate reconnaissance activities, and 30 minutes for rescue activities in the hot and warm zones.

PPE for decontamination

All appropriate personnel should be familiar with the requirements for responder decontamination and the safe undressing procedure detailed in the IOR guidance.

The level or type of decontamination selected will vary according to the nature and degree of the contaminants and the resources available. The type selected will dictate the level of PPE required by decontamination operatives.

The minimum level of PPE for decontamination operatives is structural firefighting PPE, SCBA and nitrile gloves. Gas tight suits (GTS) or powered respirator protective suits (PRPS) should be used if required by the hazardous materials assessment.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions