With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment has become essential for millions of healthcare workers, employees, students, and the general public around the world. It has become impossible to move around and go to work without wearing at least a protective respirator face mask and gloves.
However, despite the PPE discussion being so widespread, many people still don’t know what comprises personal protective equipment and how it is used at the workplace, for example. That is why, in the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at the types of PPE and what their practical purpose is in these testing pandemic times. So, let’s get started!
What Is Personal Protective Equipment?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (also known as OSHA) and CDC, personal protective equipment is specialized clothing or equipment worn by employees for protection against infectious materials. This means that every employee needs to be protected at their workplace, in line with set regulations. The same applies to healthcare settings and healthcare personnel in regards to exposure to pathogens, viruses, bacteria, etc. But, in regards to the global pandemic, PPE is required for any potential exposure to viruses or disease.
The purpose of PPE is to prevent contact and droplet exposure of the nose, eyes, and mouth. PPE is required, now more than ever, during hospital care of COVID-19 patients, and it generally includes protective gowns, gloves, medical respiratory masks, and eye protection.
4 Types Of PPE For For COVID-19
1. Respiratory Protective Equipment
Respiratory protection in the original sense of protective equipment usually includes dust masks, gas filters, and particulate filters. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, respiratory protective equipment has focused on respiratory face masks, used by the healthcare providers, first responders, employees, and the general public.
You’re probably well aware of the masks that are currently approved and recommended by the WHO, CDC, NIOSH, FDA, etc. These masks include N95 respirator masks, KN95 masks, surgical masks, cloth masks, etc. Because there is a shortage of supply of these masks, and high demand for them, the global health organizations and disease control centers recommend mask reuse.
Note: The following categorization presents air-purifying respirators, where non-powered APRs comprise masks used for different hazardous settings, as well as filtering facepieces like N95 masks. This is a standard classification of respiratory protective equipment, applied throughout different hazardous settings, from exposure to infections, viruses, and bacteria, industrial settings to even wildfire smoke events.
respirators or respiratory face masks are subject to various standards around the world. Respiratory protective equipment is made in accordance with certain regulations, standards, and required performance characteristics. That is why we have European FFF2, American N95, Chinese KN95, Australian (Australia and New Zealand) P2, Japanese DS, and Korean 1st Class masks.
2. Eye Protective Equipment
Eye protection is essential during hazardous events, including infection transmission and pandemic outbreak. In regards to the current COVID-19 situation, we can say that there is no explicit standardization of the eye protective equipment. So far, the WHO, CDC, and other global health centers and organizations recommend the use of the goggles, face shields, or visors. They are recommended to be worn together with a face respiratory mask since the protective glasses or face shields cannot protect from the virus transmission on their own.
To be more exact here’s what eye protective equipment further comprises;
- Goggles – also known as safety or protective glasses, goggles are a piece of eye protective equipment intended to protect the eyes from hazardous and harmful particles, dust, pollution, airborne particles, viruses, bacteria, etc. The CDC recommends the use of safety glasses that have extensions to cover the side of the eyes and provide proper eye protection against splashes and sprays.
- Face shield – a piece of eye protective equipment that includes a transparent visor. It is usually supported in front of the face to shield the eyes from hazardous particles. The global health organizations recommend the face shield to be worn together with respiratory masks since the shield alone cannot provide full protection against airborne particles and aerosol transmission.
- Other types of glasses, face shields, and protective helmets – other types of eye protective equipment is generally utilized for industrial environments, where employees work outdoors and require full-face protection. Such equipment includes rigid eye protection (welding hand shield), wide-vision goggles, safety spectacles, tinted goggles, etc.
Eye protective equipment, especially face shields, is rather useful in the times of global pandemic for numerous reasons. For example, the wearer has direct droplet protection in front of their face. Furthermore, the face is fully visible, which can be essential in some workplace settings. Faceshields and goggles can be cleaned and disinfected, which implies reuse or extended use without the possibility of cross-contamination, for example.
Read More: Face Masks Vs. Face Shields: Which is Better? Can I Wear Them Alone?
3. Hand Protective Equipment
When it comes to hand protective equipment in regards to infection outbreaks and pandemics, global health organizations usually recommend wearing gloves. Even though gloves were essential in the wake of COVID-19, in the past few months the CDC has provided some new guidelines regarding gloves wearing.
For example, they now state that gloves are essential when cleaning exposed surfaces, or taking care of infected patients. It seems that outside of these instances, wearing gloves won’t protect people from getting COVID-19, because germs still spread. That is why the CDC emphasizes the importance of regular hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers with at least 60% of alcohol.
Nevertheless, gloves are still a part of hand protective equipment. If you do decide to purchase gloves as a part of your protective equipment, we recommend you opt for the following types of gloves;
- Latex examination gloves – these gloves are FDA approved, and are waterproof, flexible, and scratch-resistant. Latex as a material is also oil-resistant, so the gloves won’t hold any dirt or debris onto the surface. You can also wash the gloves by running them under the water. (FDA product code LYY)
- Vinyl examination gloves – these gloves are also FDA approved for general use, but not against COVID-19. They are disposable gloves made from PVC material. Vinyl gloves have a looser fit and are generally smooth and comfortable to wear. They are the best for general wear, in terms of keeping the hands safe from contamination. (FDA product code LYZ)
- Medical or surgeon’s gloves – these gloves are also FDA approved. They are generally used by health care personnel to prevent the spread of infection or illness. These gloves are disposable and generally intended for short-term use. (FDA product code KGO).
4. Protective Medical Gowns And Aprons
When it comes to body protection, healthcare workers and employees should be wearing long-sleeved, water-resistant clothing to prevent body contamination. If protective gowns are not available, one can use single-use, plastic, water-resistant apron. Here are the main body protection equipment gowns currently used against COVID-19 contamination;
- Surgical gowns – these are worn as a protective garment by surgeons during operating procedures. Many of the surgical gowns are nowadays designed to provide proper body protection for healthcare personnel as well. Surgical gowns have long sleeves with cuffs, waist and neckties, adjustable neckline, and hook-and-loop style binding. There are also surgical gowns intended to protect the patients, and in such cases, they’re considered a medical device.
- Chemical protective clothing – coveralls, aprons, and other chemical/biological protective clothing are worn to protect from chemical and infectious materials. These provide full-body protection and are considered to be the main protective clothing equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic. Chemical protective clothing is effective against gases, liquids, particulates, and mists.
More PPE Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do Medical Gloves Protect From Coronavirus?
According to the CDC, medical gloves are used to create a barrier between the wearer and the hands. However, no medical glove brand or type has been yet approved by the FDA against COVID-19. That is why medical and other gloves are only recommended in certain situations, like cleaning infected areas or when working with infected patients.
2. Can I Reuse My PPE?
So far, only respiratory masks and face shields have been approved for reuse and extended use by the CDC and the WHO. Respiratory masks, like N95 or KN95, are approved for a reuse period of 5 days, after which the masks should be properly disposed of. This is only applicable if the masks are not damaged and are properly stored between each use. Face shields are also to be sanitized and cleaned after each use, and properly stored when not used. Other personal protective equipment pieces, like gloves or gowns, are not to be reused.
3. How Do I Dispose Of Used PPE?
It is recommended that used PPE should be discarded into a Biohazard waste bag, according to the hospital policy. This applies to medical workers and healthcare providers. When it comes to the general public, personal protective equipment should be discarded in separate bags that are sealed and protected and disposed of in the general community waste locations.
4. Do I Need To Wear All PPE For COVID-19 Protection?
Unless you’re a medical worker, a healthcare provider, or first responder, there is no need to wear every piece of personal protective equipment. The general public is advised to wear masks, wash their hands regularly, and respect social distancing measures and a part of protective measures. People who work with other people that might potentially infect them are required to wear a face shield and sometimes even gloves. Protective gowns and goggles are reserved for people who are directly exposed or in contact with infected patients.
5. How Do I Clean My Face Shield?
If you’re using a face shield for protection at your workplace, you are required to clean it regularly, or after every use. You will do that as follows;
- Wipe the inside and the outside of the face shield with a clean cloth that was previously saturated with a neutral detergent. You can also use sanitizing wipes.
- Wipe the outside of the face shield with a clean cloth that was previously saturated with registered hospital disinfection solutions. There are registered hospital disinfecting wipes that you can use as well.
- Then, wipe the outside of the face shield with a clean damp cloth, or with alcohol.
- Let the face shield to air dry in a place where no one will touch it. After it dries, try to store it in a protected, breathable place.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and sanitize with hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
Personal protective equipment in the context of COVID-19 is very important, especially for healthcare workers and first responders. Regarding the general public, masks are the essential protective equipment; the rest is reserved for medical personnel and employees that come in contact with potentially infected people.