Cleanroom Apparel: Keeping Product and Workers Safe: Decades of Experience in the Manufacture and Use of Cleanroom Apparel Has Brought Many Lessons to Every Industry in Which Controlled Environment Operations Are Common

By Hobson, David | Occupational Hazards, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Cleanroom Apparel: Keeping Product and Workers Safe: Decades of Experience in the Manufacture and Use of Cleanroom Apparel Has Brought Many Lessons to Every Industry in Which Controlled Environment Operations Are Common


Hobson, David, Occupational Hazards


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Operating a cleanroom both safely and cost-effectively can best be accomplished by combining strong attention to the lessons of the past with knowledge of today's laundry technologies and state-of-the-art fabrics applicable for cleanroom wear.

Uniform service providers that offer reusable cleanroom garment processing provide assistance to customers that goes beyond simply providing apparel, picking up soiled garments, laundering them and delivering clean ones. When these companies consult with clients, they work to make sure that all choices best meet customer needs and requirements specific to the industry and to the production process located in the controlled environment.

The Uniform and Textile Service Association (UTSA) makes these recommendations for management of cleanroom apparel programs:

* Be aware that despite many advances in fabric technology, the primary objective of today's cleanroom garments is the traditional goal: To form a particulate barrier to help prevent contaminants carried by workers from entering the controlled environment and making contact with equipment or product. Potential contaminants may be biological or chemical. Human contaminants include bacteria, lint and the millions of skin flakes that the human body sheds daily.

* Properly planned and maintained cleanroom garment systems are highly effective at protecting products from human and environmental contamination. Cleanroom apparel alone, however, cannot guarantee that workers will not be exposed to hazardous materials used in production. Depending on the level of risk, options ranging from splash-resistant fabrics to liquid-tight suiting will provide some protection. Compliance with cleanroom gowning protocols and proper handling of materials by workers, however, still is an absolute requirement to ensure that workers are not harmed by skin contact with hazardous substances such as chemicals. No cleanroom garment system is a replacement for effective employee training, highly visible material safety data sheets, safety reminders, gowning order posters, safety audits, etc..

* Cleanroom garments must permit the body to breathe;

* Garments must allow the cleanroom worker flexibility to move as needed to perform all required tasks.

* The garment system must meet site-specific requirements of the product or process, such as static dissipation at microelectronic production sites, protection from hazardous vapors, etc..

* The garment must not itself contribute to particulate contamination.

Today's Cleanroom Wear

Whether reusable cleanroom garment processing takes place at a garment rental and processing facility, or at a manufacturer's on-premises laundry, ideally the laundry site will have ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification with validated processes. Garment processing facilities may be ISO-certified at varying class levels to reflect the number of particles of a particular size in a cubic foot of air at any moment. ISO is a private, worldwide organization setting management and environmental standards for regulatory requirements.

Polyester traditionally has been considered the most practical fabric for reusable cleanroom wear because of its non-lint generating filaments. Sterilization during processing and gamma processing in particular will break down any fabric fiber, including polyester, to some extent. Fortunately, manufacturers work continually to improve the expected life of reusable cleanroom garments by improving the technology and yarns used in the weave.

This commitment by manufacturers underscores the importance of assessing your company's cleanroom gowning requirements in comparison with ISO standards, OSHA requirements and any other applicable regulations on a regular basis. Like the fabrics, regulations also change. Thus, even if your production processes are stable for long periods of time, it is worthwhile to re-examine cleanroom garment systems and protocols often to ensure that they are both in regulatory compliance and as cost-effective as possible, based on currently available protective wear products. …

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