Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part article. Part 2 will appear in the November/December issue. In part-two, readers will learn more about the different types of PPEs and how they can meet their customized organizational and facility needs.


In today's elevated threat environment, any commercial or government organization must consider the threat from mail-borne chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive (CBRNE) devices to be an ever-present danger.


For mail center supervisors, it's a troubling issue. The consequences of an ominous letter or package moving undetected through their mail centers can be devastating. Of equal concern is the possibility of mail center employees being seriously injured, or even killed, by a CBRNE device as it passes through the mail center during normal workflow. These threats place the adoption of physical and procedural safeguards to reduce risks to personnel at the top of every mail center manager's "to do" list.


Successful screening programs consist of a blend of environmental controls, threat detection and personnel protection protocols. Because major engineering changes to the average facility's environmental control system are cost- and time-prohibitive, most organizations build mail screening and security programs around more basic and easily achieved goals, including sensor installation, standardized operating procedures, education and the use of personal protection equipment (PPE).


PPE: Protecting Employees and Facilities

The proper employment of PPE offers a quick, proven and cost-effective method for safeguarding personnel from a wide variety of threats. Once understood, it can seamlessly and effectively be tailored for a wide array of environmental conditions, while offering varying degrees of comfort and protection levels.

It is crucial to note that the level of PPE associated with day-to-day protection from chemical and biological hazards offers limited or no shelter against radiological, nuclear or explosive threats. For most mail centers, this is generally provided by active and passive sensors, such as radiation and explosive monitors/detectors, x-ray and/or ordinance dogs.


What Is PPE?

Mention PPE to most people and they envision emergency response teams in "moon suits." While the use of isolation PPE and self-contained respiratory support has its place, suitable PPE is threat-specific. It can range from the use of standard clothing and/or augmentation devices (to protect the body from direct exposure to chemical or bio-hazards) or respiratory protection designed to prevent the inhalation of chemical fumes or airborne pathogens.


Well-selected PPE functions protect the eyes, skin and respiratory system. Components include but are not limited to:

  • Baseline clothing designed to provide an initial layer of protection to the largest portion of the body
  • Latex and specialty gloves
  • Ancillary covers, such as shoe, sleeve and hair covers, designed to augment the baseline protection
  • Eye protection and face shields
  • Respiratory protection in the form of specialized masks, assisted breathing devices or a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)


Understanding the various types of PPE and how each fits into a comprehensive CBRNE risk mitigation program is critical. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists four basic levels of protection in its guidelines for selecting PPE:


Level A Provides the highest level of respiratory, skin and eye protection. This includes the use of self-contained breathing apparatus and maximum skin and eye protection.


Level B Requires the same level of respiratory protection with reduced skin protection. This level does not provide adequate protection against gaseous chemicals or vapors that may be absorbed through the skin.


Level C Requires the use of full-face air purification respirators and chemically resistant skin protection. This provides a similar level of skin coverage as level B but a lower level of respiratory protection.


Level D Consists of general but minimal skin and eye protection, with no respiratory protection. The recommended EPA levels are intended only to serve as basic guidance and are not definitive.


Five-Step Evaluation Process:

To determine specific requirements and which level is appropriate for a certain mail center a more substantial evaluation is required. Vital components include:


Performing an in-depth analysis to identify and isolate potential threats. This provides focus and allows the facility manager to identify the best course of action when setting pre-event protection protocols. While this can be completed internally, the use of an external evaluation team trained in threat analysis is recommended.


Completing a facility-specific environmental capabilities and limitations evaluation. Completion of this process identifies key strengths and weaknesses regarding the facility's basic environmental controls and its ability to isolate or contain a threat.


Determine the level of PPE required for the entire mail "supply chain." Depending on handling protocols, each step whether it's receiving, sorting, screening or distributing may have different requirements. Seek the optimal balance of protection, worker comfort and functionality.


Set PPE policy, protocols and procedures. Include guidelines for use in each work area, user safeguards, emergency protocols and disposal requirements. The policy must be clear, unambiguous, standardized when possible and enforceable. User directives should clearly detail don-doff, normal use, disposal and emergency procedures, as well as user safety information.


Develop and conduct regular training. Establish the use of voluntary compliance checks between workers. Emphasize safety. Develop a clear understanding of the importance of complying with policy. Make the work force a partner in the validation and enforcement process.


Don Shanks, Vice President of Engineering for SoBran Inc and M. Keith James, Program Manager, SoBran, can be reached at 703-352-1344; dshanks@sobran-inc.com.