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Suited and booted

Working on the Sellafield site can often be different to other environments – even other industrial sites.

As nuclear professionals, we can have different safety standards and procedures to those found elsewhere. Given the work we do, and the assets we’re protecting, this is a sensible approach…

This approach means we’re always keen to ensure people have the right tools for the job, the right training to use these, and know exactly what they’re going to be doing.

One such example is in the use of PVC suits for tasks in environments where there could be contamination from radioactive particles. In such instances, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as the PVC suit act as the last line of defence, so it’s crucial that they do their job properly.

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The process to be given authorisation to wear a PVC suit to carry out work is a robust one, and I must admit I was daunted at first by the range of kit laid out in front of me and the process I knew I’d have to go through.

It was explained to me that the process starts with the training need being identified. This is followed by some pre-course training including a respirator fit test, which ensures that you get the right size respirator mask to wear with the suit.

Only once these steps are completed can you undergo the training to wear the suit.

This procedure can be a tricky one, especially for someone who hasn’t undertaken it before, but for those who wear the suits regularly, it can quickly become second nature. The principle behind it is that there are layers of protection (for example, the user will wear three pairs of gloves once fully clothed), with all seals secured with tape.

The time taken to dress and undress from a PVC suit varies, but it can easily add ten or fifteen minutes onto a task for someone who infrequently does it. It is both surreal and reassuring to be taped into your outfit using green electrical tape!

After this training course, those who will then use a PVC suit for their role must undergo a medical to ensure they’re fit enough to do so, in the circumstances they would use it. It is only at this stage that someone would be authorised to wear the suit.

The finished outfit has a look of Breaking Bad, and might feel strange for some, but the training and preparations for those who wear it help ensure the process feels natural – well as wearing kilos of PVC and breathing apparatus can feel.

I was conscious in trying the outfit on that this was a rare and surreal experience for me – people who are required to wear PVC suits for their roles will have the training outlined in this article prior to touching a suit. Whilst I didn’t undertake the medical and full training, I did ensure I was clean shaven, as those who wear the suits for work must be.

However, despite all of this, I found wearing the suit to be more natural than I imagined. In fact, it was reassuring to see the work that goes into training people to wear the suits, and the care taken to ensure the kit and procedures are suitable.”

“I wear PVC and other PPE on a regular basis, and have no issues with this. We know the kit is robust and the tried and tested methods we used to put them on ensures that there very few contamination issues. The environment we work in can be tough – with temperatures in some areas up to 35 degrees – so it’s good to know the kit you’re wearing does the job. On top of this we hear clear rules on how long someone wearing the kit can work for, and the breaks they must have. These also help ensure that the job is done safely.”