Effective ppe

Effective PPE for COVID-19

Neil Munro Health & Safety

As we enter the third week of lockdown, the Governments advice remains the same; avoid contact with others and stay indoors wherever possible.  But this isn’t realistic for everyone, and many still have to put themselves at risk through their jobs, so protection rather than prevention becomes their priority.

But this is a fast-moving situation, and official recommendation on protection can change on a daily basis, as new information comes to light.  And so it is with personal Protective equipment (PPE); what was being discredited a few weeks ago has now become essential for many in different areas of healthcare and commerce. Anyone who is dealing with the general public needs to take sufficient precautions to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

Here’s something to think on; when a person coughs, they can release up to 3,000 individual droplets, and if that person has a communicable illness such as COVID-19, then each of those droplets could potentially contain active virus, and some of these smaller particles can remain in the air for some time, up to several hours. Some studies have suggested that the COVID-19 virus can survive on cardboard for up to up to 24 hours, and for as long as 2-3 days on plastic and other hard surfaces.

Clothing represents a relatively unknown factor. It is not yet understood how long the virus can survive on clothing and other surfaces that are harder to keep clean and disinfect. Some initial investigations suggest that the absorbent natural fibres in cardboard cause the virus to dry up more quickly than on plastic and metals, and the same may be true of fibrous materials such as cloth too, rendering it inactive in a relatively short time. It is believed that, due to the porous material, it desiccates rapidly and might be stuck to the fibres, limiting its mobility. However, that has not been exclusively proven, and shouldn’t be taken as proven, or effective.

Plainly, anyone who is in a known COVID-19 environment, needs to have the right PPE, but even experts are still arguing over what might be the right – and safe – level of equipment.   Undeniably, with thousands of healthcare workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic every day, there needs to be some direction as to what they should be using.

The UK Government has issued guidance as to what they believe is a safe level of protection for those working at different levels of healthcare, and these tend towards excessive rather than ill-prepared.  The Government document states that healthcare workers who are routinely working within a metre of someone who is suspected or confirmed as having COVID-19 should have as a minimum;

  • Fluid repellent facemask or full face-shield.
  • Disposable apron
  • Disposable gloves
  • Close-fitting eye protection if there is a risk of splashing

If those healthcare workers are in an environment that may result in aerosol-generating procedures – when an air current moves across the surface of a film of liquid, such as in persistent coughing – then they should adopt as an absolute minimum PPE;

  • FFP3 respirator
  • Full-face visor.
  • Long sleeved disposable gown
  • Full length gloves, to go over the gown arms.
  • Eye protection – disposable goggles – to be worn under the visor.

Ideally, in all cases, long hair should be tied back and covered.

FFP3 Dust Masks protect against higher levels of dust, and they also protect against solid and liquid aerosols, and are often found in areas that handle hazardous powders, such as those found in the pharmaceutical industry. There has been some criticism of facemasks of any type and the effectiveness of them called into question, but the general consensus from the medical sector is that any facemask is better than none, and properly-manufactured masks are effective.

Because we still don’t know how virulent COVID-19 is, or its transmission rates under different criteria, we have to err on the side of caution and assume that it is always a worst-case scenario.   This means no skin exposure, and anything that may come into contact with droplets needs to be either cleanable using medical processes, or disposable.

While the best course of action with anything like COVID-19 is to keep a distance, but that isn’t always possible, and in those cases, effective PPE is essential. 

If you need advice on appropriate levels of PPE, contact us at Acorn Health and Safety, and see how we can help you.