Personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a key role in protecting employees across various industries, including healthcare, pharmaceutical, construction, oil and gas, and manufacturing. PPE has recently come under intense scrutiny due to the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic. While regular PPE use, such as wearing a mask, is relatively new for members of the public, it is commonplace in some professions.
What is PPE?
According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), PPE is worn in work environments to reduce the risk of exposure to potential hazards that could lead to illness or injury.
Depending on the industry, injuries and illnesses may stem from close contact with physical, mechanical, electrical, chemical, radiological, or other types of workplace dangers. PPE is a key measure for source control in the medical industry, reducing the spread of COVID-19, harmful bacteria, airborne or bloodborne pathogens, and other disease microorganisms.
The OSHA, World Health Organization (WHO), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites are excellent information resources for workers in all industries requiring PPE.
FAQs About PPE
Workers who are new to a job, or still adapting to changing workplaces in the wake of the COVID-19 virus, can benefit from learning about PPE and how to use it properly.
Who is Responsible for Providing PPE Information and Training?
Employers are responsible for providing adequate PPE for their staff. They must also ensure employees are given formal training on workplace safety and correct PPE use. Workers are required to know:
- When PPE is necessary
- What PPE they should wear in different work areas and for specific tasks
- How to put on, adjust, use, and remove PPE
- The limitations of PPE
- How to maintain and care for PPE
- The lifespan of their PPE
- How to properly dispose of PPE
To ensure workers are using PPE effectively, employers should develop a PPE program. This helps identify potential hazards, determine which PPE is most suitable, and outline an effective training schedule for all workers.
Who Does PPE Protect?
PPE protects users from workplace injuries and potential occupational hazards. Most PPE is designed to protect the individual wearer. For example, steel toe cap boots, hard hats, gloves, and safety goggles on a construction site help keep workers safe from lacerations, falling objects, or burns from machinery, equipment, or welding tools.
PPE also protects businesses and healthcare organizations from major incidents and lawsuits. Under OSHA guidelines, employers must ensure the workplace is free from recognized hazards that contribute to accidents, injuries, or death.
Who Should Pay for PPE?
Since 2008, employers have been responsible for paying for their employees’ PPE. They are also responsible for determining PPE requirements, sourcing them, and providing employees with adequate equipment. Should the PPE become outdated or broken, the employer is responsible for replacing the equipment.
How Does My Employer Decide What PPE is Necessary?
Employers assume responsibility for deciding what PPE their workers should use. To determine what PPE is needed, employers should conduct a PPE hazard assessment. This is a multi-step process that helps businesses identify risks and find the right PPE to mitigate them. The key steps involved are:
Employers conduct a thorough walk-through of the workplace and survey the area for potential hazards. OSHA, professional health and safety bodies, and insurance companies provide guidelines for orchestrating risk assessments. There are also independent risk assessment companies that can conduct the survey on a company’s behalf.
Risk assessors look for hazards in the categories of impact, penetration, chemical, heat, compression, and radiation. Once definite hazards are determined, businesses must find a way to repair them or protect employees through PPE usage.
Next, they analyze the data from the survey and determine what PPE is necessary to offer maximum protection for employees. Management must learn about the available PPE, its limitations, and its protective capabilities.
Employers take the measurements of their workers to ensure they order the right size PPE. Where possible, PPE should be fitted to the individual.
Once the PPE needs are determined, the employer must buy the equipment from a reputable supplier.
Employers must create a PPE program to assign PPE, train employees, and monitor its use. Employers need to assess the effectiveness of PPE continuously. They should also track supply levels to ensure adequate provisions at all times.
Who Regulates PPE?
For most industries in the US, the official regulations for PPE are created and enforced by OSHA. The regulatory standards align closely with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), particularly for eye, face, head, and hearing protective equipment.
However, several other bodies maintain their own high standards when it comes to PPE. For example, the FDA provides medical equipment guidelines, like gowns, gloves, and surgical masks. The CDC has a set of standards for protecting against infectious diseases in various healthcare settings.
When purchasing PPE, it’s essential to check that it is regulated by an authoritative body and is thoroughly tested.
What PPE is Effective Against COVID-19?
Depending on the industry, you may be encouraged to wear different types of PPE to protect against COVID-19. In hospitals and healthcare facilities with highly vulnerable patients, workers must follow strict guidelines for proper PPE use. Even for minor procedures such as a medical assessment, doctors and nurses may need to wear respirators, gowns, gloves, face masks, or eye protection.
In offices, retail stores, warehouses, and hospitality businesses, workers typically wear face masks, face shields, or both. Most workplaces have strict hand sanitation protocols and mandate that staff frequently wash their hands or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Do I Need to Wear PPE if I’ve Been Vaccinated?
OSHA recommends that regardless of your vaccination status, you should continue to wear appropriate PPE at work. Since fully vaccinated people are still capable of contracting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus, OSHA encourages workers to wear face coverings while they are inside to protect others.
The CDC recommends members of the public wear cloth face coverings with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric. The mask should completely cover your nose and mouth and fit snugly for better protection.
N95 respirators are reserved for medical personnel. These products, labeled as “surgical,” are considered PPE and filter the air you breathe and help reduce the transmission of airborne pathogens.
Does All PPE Offer the Same Level of Protection?
Not all PPE offers the same level of protection. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are four different levels of protection for standard PPE: Level A, B, C, and D.
Level A PPE
Level A PPE is used to protect the wearer when there is a high risk of exposure to potential hazards. Examples of level A PPE include a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), chemical and vapor protective suits, chemical resistant gloves, and disposable protective suits, gloves, and boots.
Level B PPE
This equipment is designed to offer the maximum level of respiratory protection and a slightly less comprehensive level of skin protection. Types of level B equipment include inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves, coveralls, and chemical-resistant boots.
Level C PPE
This PPE level protects the user from potential airborne hazards. Wearers are usually aware of the dangerous substances, and the equipment is chosen to protect against them. Standard level C PPE includes air-purifying respirators, chemical-resistant gloves, face shields, and chemical-resistant boots.
Level D PPE
Level D equipment provides minimum levels of protection to the wearer. It is designed to prevent contamination or pathogen transmission from splashes, certain levels of immersion, and inhalation of hazardous chemicals. Typical level D PP includes gloves, safety glasses, face shields, and steel-toed boots.
Depending on your work environment, you may be required to wear a combination of PPE that offers various levels of protection.
Can I Reuse PPE?
Most PPE is designed for one-off use by a single person. Following exposure to hazardous materials, the PPE can become a source of contamination, making further use unsafe. The level of protection the equipment provides also reduces over time.
However, there are some exceptions. According to the FDA, items such as an elastomeric respirator mask or protective goggles can be used multiple times if appropriately decontaminated. Certain types of medical gowns are also designed for reuse.
PPE shortages forced workers to reuse specific equipment recommended for single-use, such as face masks and N95 respirators throughout the pandemic. One of the most important factors for maintaining a safe environment after extended PPE use is disposing of your equipment correctly.
How Do I Safely Dispose of PPE?
All PPE users should be trained on how to apply, use, and remove equipment properly. This limits the spread of potential disease and reduces the risk of exposure to harmful materials. PPE is only effective if it is used correctly, including donning, doffing, and disposal. Follow your workplace PPE guide on correct and safe disposal methods.
The WHO recommends disposing of all PPE through a closed-lid receptacle. Used PPE should always be regarded as potentially infectious waste, so maximum precaution must be taken when handling these items.
Provide High-Level Protection With Quality PPE
Providing high-level protection for your employees through quality PPE is a simple and effective method of maintaining a safe and sanitary work environment. Ensure you source all equipment from a reliable supplier, such as ICU Production Inc. We are a leading provider of FDA-approved PPE across various industries, from manufacturing to healthcare.
Visit our online store to browse our comprehensive supply of PPE, including medical gowns, N95 respirators, surgical masks, hand sanitizer, and more. Find all the protective equipment you need from one reliable source with ICU Production Inc.