What Is Personal Protective Equipment?

What Is Personal Protective Equipment

If you’ve paid even a cursory glance to the news in the past year, you’ll likely have heard reporters and politicians fretting about personal protective equipment or PPE. Last year, at the start of the outbreak, there were global shortages of such equipment, leading to medical professionals braving exposure to the virus.

Thankfully, such days are long past. Global production of PPE has gone into overdrive to cater to the booming demand. 

However, no one ever explained a straightforward question: what is personal protective equipment? And why is it so crucial in the fight against COVID-19?

Here’s the answer.

What Exactly Is PPE?

In short: PPE is any equipment used as a barrier against viral and bacterial infections, protecting an individual’s skin, mouth, nose, or eyes, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Classic examples of such equipment include medical gowns, gloves, and N95 respirators. Collectively, they meet the medical requirements for adequate protection.

However, PPE demands change depending on the situation.

Different strains of flu or bacteria create variations in the types of PPE used. Bacterial infections will mainly require gloves and gowns, whereas COVID-19 being a droplet spread infection, differs. For most medical professionals, patient visitors, or hospital cleaners, the following PPE is considered applicable:

  • Medical masks or respirators (N95 or FFP2)
  • Eye protection
  • Gowns or aprons
  • Gloves

You can purchase all the equipment mentioned above at CanGardCare.com. 

The use of PPE should always be in conjunction with other infection control measures such as hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. PPE is an extra layer of protection, not a replacement for other practices. Moreover, specific medical procedures will require enhanced protection. Intubation and nebulization are two such procedures due to the significant exposure to a patient’s airway. Under these circumstances, all professional’s attendants in the room will need complete protective gear and must practice impeccable infection control.

Types of PPE

You’ll sometimes hear of PPE being used in other non-medical contexts. These types of PPE are primarily used for employee safety in construction sites and other hazardous workplaces. They should not be confused with medical-related PPE. 

There are five main types of non-medical PPE:

  • Respiratory

            Breathing filtration equipment, like masks and respirators.

  • Eye protection

            Most commonly, safety goggles or face shields.

  • Hearing protection

            Hearing protectors or earplugs are used.

  • Hand protection

            Gloves are used to prevent contact with hazardous substances.

  • Foot protection

            Protective footwear or foot-covers. 

Such equipment is governed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Should you reuse personal protective equipment?

PPE should never be reused. The clue is in the name: It is personal protective equipment. That means it’s for your use only, and washing or reusing of the equipment is beyond the remit of its design.

However, if you are the only one using the equipment, can it be used a second- or even third-time? After all, you’re not infecting anyone else.

The answer largely depends upon the type of equipment. For instance, a study published in March 2020 found that N95 masks could be reused following hydrogen peroxide vapor sterilization. Following such a procedure, it led to the ‘complete eradication of phage from masks.’ If the procedure is conducted five times, then ‘the respirators appeared similar to new with no deformity.’ 

Despite being published, the research has yet to be peer-reviewed, so the findings should be treated with skepticism. The results were replicated three times, though. Nevertheless, it suggests that some equipment can be reused after treatment under certain circumstances – such as extreme shortages.

For other equipment, such as gloves and gowns, reuse would not be advisable. These pieces are prone to tears and damage from use and will not be effective a second- or third-time. 

What to do with PPE after use?

If you’re not going to be reusing PPE, what should you be doing with it?

In most circumstances, PPE is likely to be contaminated by exposure to a patient or other situations. Therefore, the PPE must be removed carefully so as not to expose oneself. 

Then, after removal, it must be placed in one of the following, depending on the type of equipment:

  • Special laundry containers for reuse after cleaning
  • Special waste containers for removal
  • Specially marked bags for cytotoxic PPE

If you have any questions, ask a professional or colleague. PPE should only be removed upon leaving the contaminated area. Otherwise, you risk exposing yourself to the virus or other infectious agents.

To Recap

Personal protective equipment is also known as PPE. It refers to any equipment used as a barrier between viral and bacterial agents and an individual’s own body. Examples of such equipment include masks, gowns, shoe covers, and more. For the best equipment available, head over to the store at CanGardCare.com

Medical PPE should not be confused with other forms of PPE used in construction and other hazardous situations. Nor should PPE be reused unless explicitly stated. Instead, it should be disposed of safely and responsibly. 

Now that you know the ins and outs of PPE, how will you protect yourself?