With SARS COV-2 leading to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for protection against viral infection affects everyone and especially public and work places. Hence these standards apply to companies and not only to heath care facilities such as laboratories, physicians’ offices or hospitals. In those cases, not only health care workers are in jeopardy but all workers who cannot apply strict social distancing measures. In the UK, it is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which regulates PPE and how it should be supplied and used at work. In the US it is the OSHA. Furthermore, when an infection affects a large population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide specific recommendations for infection control practices and actions plans to be carried out.
Especially in times of an unprecedented pandemic and an unknown disease such as COVID-19, the availability of Personal Protective Equipment gives a certain sense of control. Even when others might disregard procedure, you have the ability to protect yourself. Working in conditions where your safety is cared about, brings trust towards the company. Trust improves commitment and commitment is a pillar of performance.
A company has duties with regard to providing PPE for the use at work free of charge for the employees. Also important is the need to provide instructions, training, and foster constructive dialogue in order to encourage people to work safely and take responsibility. In the US, it is the OSHA which has the authority to enforce such regulation; in the UK, the HSE has such authority.
This means the company has to assess the risks, adjust and provide the appropriate equipment. Employees must be trained in order to use the PPE properly and be aware of the limitations of the protection provided. When possible, it is best to have employees from all parts of the company participate in the elaboration of the safety plan including the provision of PPE. This will improve their sense of responsibility when it comes to use the equipment.
The scope of hazards Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protect against is brought down to viral and bacterial infections. When used in a proper way, PPE act as a barrier between one’s body and external contaminants. It blocks transmission of virus or bacteria from body fluids including blood and respiratory secretions.
PPE range from protective clothing to goggles and n95 respirators.
Note that in the UK, the definition of PPE according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) expands the virus and bacterial infection hazards and comprises equipment protecting against head bumping, slipping, noise, chemical splash, electrostatic build-up or even extreme temperature amongst others.
Each PPE aims at protecting against a specific hazard in specific circumstances. For example, during a surgery, you will need to wear medical gloves especially if your hand is wounded but in daily relations you do not need to wear medical gloves.
FDA and HSE recommend to take into scrutiny the activity of workers in their environment in order to assess the type of infectious disease they are exposed to, for how long and with which intensity and therefore decide the appropriate PPE. Also important is to check that worn at the same time, two pieces of equipment can be used together in the one hand and to not cause collateral effects, e.g. in some circumstances, one might prefer to use a face shield versus a combination of surgical masks and eye protection glasses.
Besides, it is recommended to use PPE in last resort and in combination to other infection control practices such as hand sanitizers, hand washing and the like.
Finally, workers need to be trained in order to handle and wear PPE without infecting themselves. For example, how to take infected gloves or masks off without contaminating one’s skin. They need to be trained for the maintenance of the equipment as well: how to clean them, store them and make best use of them over time.
PPE include facemasks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gloves, aprons and gowns and any equipment that may act as a barrier against getting contaminated and/or the risk of contaminating others.