Lab Coat Use, Selection and Cleaning
LAB COAT USE
Lab coats are a key element of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the laboratory. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control reference the use of lab coats or other protective clothing for use in laboratories while working with hazardous materials. When properly used, lab coats:
- Provide protection of skin and personal clothing from incidental contact and small splashes.
- Prevent the spread of contamination outside of the lab (provided they are not worn outside of the lab).
- Provide a removable barrier in the event of an incident involving a spill or splash of hazardous substances.
At LSUHSC, at a minimum, a laboratory coat or equivalent protective clothing is required for work with hazardous chemicals, unsealed radioactive materials, and biological agents at BL2 or greater. In some cases, through a hazard assessment, laboratory supervisors may identify situations (a task, experiment, or area) where alternative or more protective apparel must be worn.
When lab coats are used in the laboratory, observe the following:
- Lab coats are available in a variety of sizes; wear a coat that fits properly. Some lab coat services also offer custom sizes (e.g., extra long sleeves, tall, or woman’s fit). Lab coats should fasten close to the collar to provide optimal protection.
- Lab coats should be worn fully buttoned or snapped with sleeves down.
- Wear lab coats only when in the lab or work area. Don’t wear lab coats in public areas, such as offices, cafeterias, lunch rooms, lounge areas or elsewhere outside the laboratory, as they can transfer hazardous materials to these areas.
- Lab coats can’t be cleaned at home.
- Lab coats must be cleaned by either:
- a commercial vendor using the latest CDC laundering guidelines (see Section 4) or,
- autoclaving coats first and then cleaned in the regular laundry.
Limitations of Lab coats
In general, protective clothing, including lab coats, should not be used as a substitute for engineering controls such as a fume hood, a glove box, process enclosure, etc., or as a substitute for good work practices and personal hygiene. For significant chemical handling, it will be necessary to supplement lab coat use with additional protective clothing (e.g., a rubber or vinyl apron for handling large quantities of corrosives or hydrofluoric acid, or chemical resistant coveralls for full body protection). Conversely, use of engineering controls such as fume hoods do not preclude the need for wearing the proper PPE, including lab coats. Some known limitations of lab coats include:
- Lab coats are not designed to be the equivalent of chemical protection suits for major chemical handling or emergencies.
- With the exception of language in the OSHA bloodborne pathogen standard pertaining to use of lab coats for protection of work clothes from blood or other potentially infectious material, there are no design or test criteria specified in regulations or guidelines specific to lab coats. Accordingly:
- Lab coats are not tested for typical conditions that might be encountered in a research lab with respect to chemical use, or combined research activities.
- There is little or no information provided by manufacturers or distributors about the capability of a lab coat for a combination of hazards. A coat that is described as “flame resistant”, such as treated cotton, may not be chemical resistant or acid resistant.
- A coat that is advertised as flame resistant has not been tested using criteria involving flammable chemicals on the coat. The term “flame resistant” refers to the characteristic of a fabric that causes it not to burn in air. The testing criteria involves applying an open flame to the bottom edge of a strip of fabric in a test chamber for 12 seconds and then looking at char length, after flame, and after glow, testing the self extinguishing properties of the fabric. The flame resistance test criteria were intended to simulate circumstances of a flash fire, or electric arc flash, not a chemical fire.
LAB COAT SELECTION
With the limitations above in mind, lab coats are made of different materials, and it is important to select a coat or coats of appropriate material for the types of hazards in the lab. The first step in this selection process is to determine the types of hazards that exist in your lab and the reasons for the lab coats. Some questions to consider are:
- Does your lab work primarily with chemicals, biological agents, radioisotopes, or a mix of hazards?
- Does your lab work involve animal handling?
- Are there large quantities of flammable materials (>4 liters) used in a process or experiment?
- Are there water reactive or pyrophoric materials used in the proper glove box and not in a (open air) fume hood?
- Are there open flames or hot processes along with a significant amount of flammables?
- How are hazardous chemicals used and what engineering controls are available, (e.g., a fume hood or glove box)?
- Is there a significant risk of spill, splash or splatter for the tasks being done?
- What is the toxicity of chemicals used and is there concern about inadvertent spread of contamination?
For more information on hazard assessments, see the Job Safety Analysis and Personal Protective Equipment policies. If you need assistance with a hazard analysis, contact the Certified Industrial Hygienist, Darren Burkett at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Chemical/Biological Safety Officer, Taylor Kriete, at email@example.com.
Choosing the Right Lab Coat
The best coats have the following characteristics:
- Tight cuffs (knitted or elastic).
- Snap closures on the front for easy removal in case of contamination.
- Coats with different properties are easy to tell apart (ex: FR coats should have outer markings clearly identifying. them as FR coats and can be ordered in a different color than other coats present in the lab).
- Properly fit.
- Appropriate material for hazards to be encountered.
One coat may not work for all lab operations. For instance, you may use a basic poly/cotton blend coat for most operations, but have available lab coats of treated cotton or Nomex for work involving pyrophoric materials, extremely flammable chemicals, large quantities of flammable chemicals, or work around hot processes or operations. If chemical splash is also a concern, use of a rubber apron over the flame resistant lab coat is recommended. Lab coat materials may be made of materials for limited reuse, or disposable one time use.
Work with pyrophoric, spontaneously combustible, or extremely flammable chemicals presents an especially high potential for fire and burn risks to the skin. EHS recommends the use of fire retardant or fire resistant (FR) lab coats to provide additional skin protection where the individual will be working with these chemicals. The primary materials used for FR lab coats are FR-treated cotton or Nomex.
The table below provides information on some typical lab coat materials available, with guidance on use and limitations.
Obtaining a Lab Coat
The Supervisor/PI is responsible for assuring that required PPE, including lab coats are available, used, and maintained. Below are options for obtaining lab coats:
Turnkey Lab Coat Support
Several national companies provide a turnkey service for lab coats. At a fixed fee per week per coat, they provide the lab coat plus:
- Cleaning of the coats to ensure they are properly decontaminated and disinfected.
- Repairs of lab coats.
- Replacement of lab coats as a result of normal wear and tear.
Turnkey lab coat support is available from the following companies:
Jason Sistrunk Cristi Cyprowski Byron Mancuso
625 Elmwood Park Blcd 463 Avenue A 2744 Lexington Street
New Orleans, LA 70123 Westwego, LA 70094 Kenner, LA 70062
504.736.8899 504-341-3401 504.466.6777
Reusable Lab Coats
There are numerous sources for reusable lab coats, including the LSUHSC bookstore.
Disposable Lab Coats
Disposable lab coats are intended primarily for one-time use. They are available from many on-line vendors. They are then disposed of in a biological waste box after use. Ensure the coat is made of a material suitable for the intended use.
LAB COAT CLEANING
Lab coats must cleaned on a recurring basis. Below are options for cleaning lab coats:
- Clean by a laundry vendor using the latest CDC laundering guidelines (see Section 4). These vendors ensure cleaning complies with CDC Healthcare guidelines regarding temperature setting and disinfection cleaning agents.
- Autoclave and then have cleaned in the regular laundry.
Jennifer Elsensohn Cristi Cyprowski Joshua Landry
7639 Townsend Place 463 Avenue A 510 Kornmeyers Plz
New Orleans, LA 70126 Westwego, LA 70094 Baton Rouge, LA 70806
504.242.6254 504.341.3401 225.218.8814
Note that if the lab coat is contaminated by radiation, contact the Radiation Safety Officer for disposal as radiation waste. Furthermore, if the coat is contaminated with a highly toxic chemical or if contaminated by a chemical to a degree to which it can’t be safely washed, contact the Chemical Safety Officer for disposal as chemical waste.