Why is PPE so important?

The importance of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) has been highlighted in the news recently due to COVID-19. With members of the general public as well as professionals now required to wear PPE, the sales of items such as gloves, aprons and face masks have gone through the roof. But, do you really know what you are buying?

PPE is worn in addition to clothing to help to protect you and others from injury or cross-infections. PPE can provide full-body coverage or provide protection for a specific body part, for example; hands, eyes and feet.

Respiratory Protection

In other words, Face Masks.

In the UK, it is now a legal requirement to wear face coverings such as masks in shops and on public transport, and is advised when you cannot keep 2 metres apart.

One of the most familiar masks is 3 Ply Disposable Surgical Face Masks. Worn mostly by people in the medical profession, they are a comfortable fit and can be thrown away after use. These masks should always meet the European Standards EM:14683.

For a mask to meet the standard of EM:14683, it needs to meet the following requirements:

  • Bacteria Filtration Efficiency (BFE): >98% (Size of typical bacteria at 3-5 microns)
  • Particulate Filtration Efficiency (PFE): >99% 0.1 micron particle size
  • Differential Pressure (Delta P): <3.0 mm (Breathability – Pressure Difference, a low value is better)
  • Fluid resistance: 80 mmHg (Measure the ability to resist fluids at a specified pressure; level 1 = 80mmHg, Level 2 = 120 mmHg, level 3 = 160 mmHg)

You may also have seen Valved Face Masks. These masks are intended for prolonged use, as they allow exhaled air to escape from the mask whilst stopping dust, mists and fibres being inhaled.

Valved Face Masks are primarily used in trades such as Carpentry, Construction and Engineering. They are not used in the medical profession as the valve creates jets of exhaled air which can spread bacteria and viruses.

Gloves

Gloves are one of the most frequently used items of PPE; they can reduce the risk of injury and stop the spread of contaminants. With so many materials to choose from, which one is going to be fit for purpose?

Leather Gloves are designed to be hard-wearing and for repeated use. Rigger Gloves are one of the most familiar leather gloves. Designed for construction and general usage, these gloves are reliable with knuckle protection and safety cuff.

Welders Gauntlets; made from Cow Split Leather, protect the user from extreme heat. They conform to the European Safety Stanard of EN388, this means the gloves fabric or layers of fabric have the ability to resist heavy rubbing, cutting by a blade or sharp object, tearing, and puncture by a pointed object. The red colour of these gloves mean they can be used in areas of reduced visibility to provide a high level of safety.

Cotton Gloves offer comfort for prolonged use. The breathable material ideal for handling delicate materials such as brass, without leaving fingerprints. You may find cotton gloves have been dipped in Nitrile or PVC for extra protection against grease and oils.

Nitrile Gloves give protection without losing your sense of touch. They are perfect for clinical and research settings where you may be dealing with small components. Normally blue or green in colour, to allow the user to clearly see dirt to prompt change. Nitrile Gauntlets are designed for prolonged use and the smooth, non-porous material even protects the user from micro-organisms.

Vinyl Gloves are disposable and are used for short tasks where things are a bit messy! Available in different sizes to suit the user and also with or without powder. Powder-free Vinyl Gloves are increasingly popular as there is no risk of allergic reactions which can be caused by powdered gloves. These gloves can be an alternative to disposable Latex Gloves.

Head Protection

Head protection is a crucial part of PPE. It’s aim is to protect the users head from impacts and stop injury. The piece of kit you need fully depends on what job you are carrying out.

Face Shields with Safety Visors provide full head and face coverage and protection. The Mesh Safety Visor is ideal for gardeners and maintenance workers. It provides protection from debris whilst not impacting sight. This visor conforms to the European standard EN1731 which refers to the material specifications, design, performance and test methods for eye and face mesh protectors. The Forestry Hat and Faceshield with Ear Defenders meets the requirements for EN1731 & EN352. EN352 refers to the Ear Defenders making sure there is adequate hearing protection.

Another form of head protection is Safety Hard Hats. Primarily used on Construction sites. They are lightweight for prolonged used and are fitted with adjustable harnesses to ensure the helmet fits the user. These helmets should conform to EN397 which states the hat has been designed to protect the wearer from falling objects and debris.

Did you know that most people do not use their PPE correctly?

Over 50% of PPE is not used or managed correctly. This can lead to the spread of infection and/or injury.

The most common reason for this is knowing when to change your PPE. There is no set time for changing your PPE so you need to monitor it, if it is dirty, wet or damaged you need to change it and dispose of it properly.

PPE covers a very wide spectrum from welders’ aprons to ear defenders, please check back next month for my next instalment on how to keep you safe at work.