Line breaking is serious business. When considering PPE, many times all that is required is referring to the MSDS for the substance in the line, however, steam is another story. For non permit required line breaks on steam, the PPE is relatively simple. Leather gloves, goggles, a face shield and other standard fare will adequately protect the employee. But when considering what is appropriate for a permit required line break, when the line can not be verified to be empty is more difficult.
Searching the internet and speaking with others in the industry provided a myriad of ideas but no solid recommendations. In order to provide the best protection, we must consider what exactly we are trying to accomplish. First, when performing a permit required line break regardless of the material in the line, we are admitting that it is entirely possible for the line breaker to come into contact with the substance in the line. After all, if we were certain that the line was empty, we wouldn’t need the permit, right? So if we expect to come into contact, then we need to decide what the course of action should be if everything goes wrong and material is released onto the line breaker. If this happens, we expect the employee to leave the area as quickly as possible.
With quick escape in mind, our PPE selection should provide protection from momentary contact and allow the line breaker to move to safety. Since this is the purpose, then we should select PPE that provides this protection. In the past, some of our older employees have relied on leather work gloves and FR clothing to provide this protection. In reality, this is the worst thing to use. These materials are completely permeable to steam at any level and will not only let steam come into contact with the employees skin but will actually hold the heat next to the body, exasperating the injury!
I suggest using insulated Neoprene gloves for hand protection and a standard PVC slicker suit for body protection with rubber safety boots to protect the feet. Neoprene offers excellent protection up to about 200 degrees Celsius and the slicker suit and rubber boots provides similar protection.
Yes, steam can be much hotter than 200 degrees Celsius, but remember, our goal is not to “work” in the area while steam is being released but rather to allow escape! Our main goal is protection from permeability and to keep the heat from reaching the skin. The low heat conductance and impermeability properties should be our primary consideration.
David Carter, CSP