The Ultimate Guide to Buying Personal Protective Equipment for Your Employees

Under federal law, employers are required to provide certain essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for employees. Although some PPE is considered optional and is up to the employee to provide themselves, most situations require the employer to provide it depending on workplace hazards.

Healthcare facilities and construction sites aren’t the only places that require PPE. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are not always clear on the exact range of situations that require PPE, but generally speaking, employees must be protected from potential harm, including physical injuries like pinch points and heavy machinery as well as chemical or biological hazards.

Physical risks tend to be obvious, but biological or chemical hazards can include exposure to sick individuals or harsh cleaning chemicals. You need to take a full inventory of the types of potential hazards your employees face and keep a supply of PPE on hand to create a safer environment and ensure you comply with OSHA requirements.

Who Needs PPE?

Regardless of rank or title, all employees should be offered PPE while potentially in contact with known hazards. In many cases, employers must require their employees to wear PPE, but these requirements vary depending on the industry. Employers must also maintain administrative controls and a systematic PPE program to ensure all safety equipment fits properly and is in good working condition.

Healthcare industry workers, including administrative workers who occasionally come into contact with patients, should all be trained on correct PPE usage. Training in proper PPE options and use is essential to avoid wasting supplies since lack of training can actually result in staff using more advanced PPE than necessary.

Teachers and daycare workers also need access to and training on PPE, especially if they are required to be trained in first aid. Since many schools don’t have full-time nurses anymore, it’s more important than ever that staff be able to carry out their duties safely to protect the wellbeing of students.

Types of Gloves

There are three main types of basic gloves: latex, nitrile, and vinyl. Vinyl is only commonly used in art studios and foodservice settings because it doesn’t provide as much protection as latex or nitrile. However, they are usually less expensive than nitrile, so they’re great for environments that don’t have a serious risk of exposure to pathogens.

The latex versus nitrile debate started due to the prevalence of latex allergies. Latex allergies can start at any time in one’s life, and since they can be triggered by frequent latex exposure, these allergies may be more prevalent among medical professionals.

Nitrile and nitrile blends were developed as a substitute for latex, but their strength and versatility have made them the preferred choice for many medical professionals. Plus, latex gloves don’t hold up against certain chemicals, which makes them a poor choice for emergency room use and some medical procedures.

However, latex gloves still allow for more precise movements and a slightly better fit, so they are still preferred for surgical procedures. Schools, medical facilities, and anywhere else that deals with members of the public should make sure to keep both latex and nitrile or nitrile blend gloves in a variety of sizes on hand to be ready for any scenario.

Getting the Right Masks

Masks are essential for keeping dust and microbes out of your respiratory system. Although some construction and factory work may require highly specialized dust filtration masks, most occupations only need a basic mask similar to those used in medical settings.

Surgical masks are designed to protect other people from your germs, especially if you sneeze or cough. They offer some protection from others’ fluids and pathogens but aren’t great for long-term use around individuals who are known or suspected to be ill.

N95 masks are the federal standard for healthcare facilities to use to reduce exposure to airborne particles. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA certified the almost-identical KN95 mask style to be used in healthcare facilities as well.

KN95 was originally a Chinese certification, but in some ways, its testing requirements are even more strict than N95 masks. The few minor differences are negligible in the context of illness prevention.

Both N95 and KN95 masks are designed to fit snugly with adjustable straps. Some masks have valves to allow the user to exhale more freely, but these valves have been discouraged from use during COVID-19 since they allow some airborne particles to escape.

Face Coverage

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people all over the world learned about the importance of wearing masks. However, goggles and face shields may also be important in some settings.

Goggles are common in scientific and medical laboratories, especially when working with volatile liquids or chemicals. Even high school art and science labs need to have a stockpile of these items for situations where students and teachers could be exposed to corrosive or poisonous substances or flying debris. Certain settings may require impact-resistant goggles, but most will be fine with basic eye protection.

Face shields are designed to be thin and lightweight to protect your eyes and skin from pathogens and liquids. They do not seal in place, so they still allow air in and only provide adequate protection if used in conjunction with an N95, KN95, or surgical mask. However, they are a great extra step to take when getting up close to a patient or any setting where liquids on the skin could cause irritation or illness.


Protective Gowns

Protective gowns are most common in medical settings, where occasional contact with bodily fluids can happen in a number of contexts. Although exposure to fluids is low in general check-ups, the risk increases with minor outpatient procedures and increases sharply with major surgeries.

The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) has 4 certification levels for medical gowns. Level 1 gowns are intended mainly for very low-risk settings and visitors, as their ability to repel fluid is low. Level 4 gowns are intended for surgeries and other scenarios where the practitioner will come into direct contact with fluids.

Medical staff should be re-trained on when and how to use each type of gown, especially if their work assignment changes. Although gowns are not common outside of medical settings, school staff may find them useful if they are dealing with a sick child or another medical situation that is severe but not urgent enough for an ambulance.

Full-Body Protection

Medical coveralls are rarely necessary, but it’s because there’s a severe risk of contamination or exposure when they are. These coveralls use Level 4 material similar to a surgical gown but cover everything between your feet and the top of your head with only a small opening for your face.

In some cases, these coveralls aren’t as much about preventing exposure to disease as they are about maintaining a sterile lab environment. Since their use is highly specialized, you may not need them very often, but it’s still crucial for medical facilities and laboratories to keep some on hand for emergencies.

Maintaining Appropriate Stock Levels

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerabilities of the U.S. medical system and supply lines for buying PPE. Early in the crisis, some medical systems were forced to innovate ways to safely reuse masks and resorted to using trash bags as medical gowns.

Keeping a 30-day emergency supply on hand might not be enough in case of a widespread and ongoing crisis, so you need to partner with a distributor that can meet your varying needs. PPE distributors have had to work hard during the pandemic to source enough products, and as a result, we’re now more reliable than ever and can rise to meet a variety of challenges.

A Partner for Any Scenario

ICU Production is proud to provide a variety of medical-grade PPE for organizations of all sizes. We understand your commitment to protecting your employees and guests and know that having sufficient PPE is essential to your ability to operate under challenging circumstances.

We provide gowns, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other types of PPE that can be in short supply during crises. Once you’ve done a basic hazard assessment in your workplace, we can answer your questions about the necessary number of PPE options for you. Call our PPE hotline at 1-323-970-3819 to learn more about how we can serve you.