Health care workers are exposed to a variety of on-the-job hazards that require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is used when there is some type of hazard that has been identified and cannot be eliminated or controlled through other means. In the health care industry, this can be anything from needle stick injuries to latex allergies. Simply stated, when we have personal protective equipment requirements, it means there is a hazard that may cause you injury and failing to use the prescribed equipment puts you in potential danger.
The Why and How
The company assesses all the work areas to find the hazards that are present, or might be present at some time, and then makes protective equipment decisions based on those assessments. This is an ongoing process to make sure we are always current and aware of the hazards of our work environment. Supervisors will keep you informed of the type of PPE for your work area or the specific jobs you perform. If you notice a hazard that could potentially require PPE to maintain your safety or the safety of patients, don’t hesitate to talk to your supervisor.
PPE is effective when it is used as designed. For instance, not all gloves protect against all hazards: latex gloves provide good protection against bodily fluids but do nothing for chemical safety. Safety glasses protect your eyes but not the rest of your face. For each type of PPE, it is important to know what it will guard against and what it won’t.
PPE not properly maintained will not last long and will not protect you. In fact, poorly maintained equipment can be a greater hazard: glasses that are dirty create visibility problems, chemical gloves with pin holes will allow chemicals to touch your skin and shoes that do not have adequate anti-slip soles create trip hazards. Before each use, inspect equipment for potential problems, and never use damaged PPE. Contact your supervisor and only proceed with the task when you are equipped with properly maintained PPE. When you are done using the gear, clean it up so it is ready for the next use. Never reuse any PPE that is contaminated or designated as one-use only.
The one thing to remember with gloves is there is no one glove that provides protection for every type of hazard. Knowing both the hazard you are guarding against and the type of protection required ensures you will properly protect your hands in all circumstances and prevent against injury and illness to yourself and others. Most gloves are designed for a specific hazard or task, but proper hand PPE must be worn at all times when working directly with patients, especially when working with bodily fluids.
Gloves used for chemical protection are not good for general tasks or with every type of chemical. Just because a glove is right for one type of chemical doesn’t mean it provides adequate protection for every chemical. It is important to match the right glove to the chemical you are working with.
General gloves, such as latex gloves, are good for protection against cuts, slivers and blisters but won’t protect against electrical shock or chemical exposure.
Cut-resistant gloves are designed to improve your grip when holding oily metal parts and to protect hands against metal burrs or other cut hazards. They won’t provide protection against corrosive chemicals.
Depending on your job, you may need more than one pair of gloves to guard against different types of hazards. Your supervisor will help you with all your glove selections.
Eye and Face Protection
Eye and face PPE provides the user with good protection when worn properly. Safety glasses must have side shields that are mounted to the frame. The glasses themselves should be adjusted so they fit properly around your ears and on your nose so they don’t slide down while you are working. Face shields provide protection for the whole face, where glasses only protect the eyes. They have adjustment ratchets on the headband that must be altered to the individual user’s head. Goggles provide good protection for eyes against bodily fluid splashes and harmful dusts and mists. They should be adjusted properly so they fit snug on your face and there are no gaps between the goggle and your face. Respiratory protection provides a barrier between you and toxins that can enter your body through your mouth or nose.
In some instances, full-body protection is necessary to protect you against all harmful agents. When this type of PPE is required, it must be worn whenever you are in designated areas – even for short periods of time.
Open-toed shoes do not provide adequate protection in a health care facility. Footwear should have proper sole protection and be slip-resistant to prevent against slips and stepping on needles or other broken materials. When steel-toed safety shoes are required, make sure they are used in designated areas or on designated shifts. When purchasing steel-toed safety shoes, make sure there is a tag indicating that the shoe build is in accordance with the ANSI Z41 standard. That ensures the shoe is up to commercial-grade standards and the metal toe will not collapse if struck.
There are many different types of PPE that will help keep you safe. Make sure you are always wearing the right equipment for the right job. Make sure all the equipment is adjusted properly and that you keep all the protective equipment clean. Never use any equipment that is broken or is not working properly. Damaged protective equipment provides no protection at all.