biohazard

What’s your PPE IQ? While personal protective equipment (PPE) has gotten a lot of attention concerning reducing the spread of the recent novel coronavirus, it has always been a mainstay of safety in many industries. Here’s how this type of equipment continues to make a difference in the health of professionals and consumers, as well as what you should know about its effectiveness in various situations. 

PPE defined

The FDA describes PPE as any piece of protective clothing or equipment that helps keep the wearer from harm, such as injury or illness. It can be something as simple as gloves or face shields. It can also include respirators and specially-made, whole-body suits. The healthcare industry is the most well-known example of how PPE is used in everyday tasks to help maintain a standard of care and safety for everything from simple checkups to more serious infection containment. The PPE acts as a barrier protecting both the healthcare provider and the patient from contaminants, from bodily fluids, airborne particles, and blood. PPE is used in many other industries, however, including emergency clean up and restoration. The recent need for extra care due to COVID-19 threats has made it a common sight in many daily scenarios.

Before you assume that more PPE is always better, you should know that PPE works only as well as the methods used by the wearer. Improperly-worn PPE can make matters worse. This is why it’s important to know the 4 basic elements of effective PPE:

  1. Quality

With so many online sellers making cheap masks and gloves available, it may seem that there’s never been a better time to need PPE equipment. Unfortunately, the quality of these items may not be up to standards. The FDA has a continuing role in overseeing some of the items that come to market, specifically those claiming to be used as a medical device. These might include surgical masks, N95 respirators, gowns, and medical gloves. If you want the highest standard of protection, seeking FDA approval on any item can help dismiss any doubt. Items not clearly labeled as approved for medical use may not protect against airborne particles, be sterile, or have resistance to tears and snags.  

  1. Quantity

Even if you purchase the best gear for your workers, not having enough to go around can prove futile. Workers need to have enough inventory of PPE to know that they can change it out as needed, whether it’s due to movement between sterile/non-sterile environments or because it has become worn-out or damaged. Using dirty or worn PPE can be dangerous for those who rely on it to keep them out of harm’s way; put as much effort into finding enough PPE as you do in finding high-quality options. 

  1. Use

We’ve heard a lot about proper mask use, glove disposal, and goggle placement. Are you familiar with the best ways to wear each of the PPE types? Don’t assume that workers know the best practices for each, since individual styles and brands of equipment may have different fasteners, for example. Wearers should know how to wear PPE well before they put it on for the best results. Proper disposal should also be taught, so wearers aren’t reinfecting sterile spaces or transferring viral matter between themselves and others. 

  1. Occasion

Is it always a good idea to wear PPE? Maybe not, as there are risks to wearing it that may outweigh the benefits. If vision is obscured or movement restricted, for example, certain types of PPE may not be recommended. If PPE is needed to work safely, consider how some options may work better than others to keep your teams free of additional, dangerous obstacles. PPE may also be discouraged in situations where it’s redundant to other processes or equipment or when it causes patients or customers to not be able to communicate. Using a shield instead of a mask, for example, may be better for working with hard-of-hearing patients or children. 

PPE levels

In addition to the types and the rules for PPE, there are levels of use to when certain types will be more effective in protecting the wearer. OSHA recommends different levels of protection based on the situation, but it ranges from D (lowest risk) to A (most risk.) Someone in an A risk situation would require more equipment with a higher performance rating than someone in a D situation.

Within each level, there are recommendations for the four categories of PPE, including eye protection, skin protection, lung protection, and hand protection. Some PPE products incorporate more than one category or protection, such as a HAZMAT suit that covers the skin, eyes, and hands while also filtering the air for the lungs. Others, such as nitrile gloves, would only protect the hands. Knowing how each level of risk will determine each type of gear can help you anticipate different scenarios for your workers so that you always have the right amount of high-quality PPE on hand.

Why PPE matters

Even if you don’t work in an industry where PPE is needed for everyday work, this essential product category helps our society in so many ways. Emergency and recovery workers, cleanup crews, and first responders of all kinds rely on PPE to assist others in sometimes life-threatening situations where time matters and having adequate stock of supplies is the difference between saving someone or not.  

Even something as simple as a house fire can present the need for cleanup teams to use PPE. From the gloves they wear to protect their hands from exploded cleaning products to the respirators needed to filter out air particulates, having PPE in even the aftercare of a disaster is key to rebuilding our communities and getting the hard work done. Take the time to know the key differences in today’s PPE, as well as how to select high-quality options, so that you and your workers can stay protected while doing the jobs they do best.  

The team at Ideal have the expertise necessary to effectively employ PPE to deal with all kinds of environmental hazard and disaster recovery projects. Are you wrestling with an emergency and need a well-equipped team? Get in touch with us today.

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