It goes without saying, watching the news sometimes feels like a master’s course in biology and infectious diseases. They reference statistics, present new information rapidly, and speak in acronyms commonly used in the medical community. The one that seems to be the most prevalent is “PPE”. If you’re like us, this may not be an abbreviation you heard on a regular basis before two months ago. So, what is PPE and why is it so important?
PPE is simply personal protective equipment. It is worn to reduce exposure to hazardous materials and airborne particulates which cause harm, illness, injury, or death when exposed. Exactly what type of equipment that entails depends on your job and what you might be exposed to while in the workplace.
There are high standards to meet before a piece of gear gets certified as a PPE. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has been testing and verifying equipment and safety procedures for almost 50 years. Once OSHA properly tests a piece of equipment, it can then earn a designation. In addition, they require an employer to train their employees in things like:
- When is it necessary to wear PPE
- What kind of equipment is required for a particular job
- How to properly fit, adjust, wear and remove PPE
- Limits and parameters of the PPE
- How to properly care for, maintain, use and dispose of PPE
PPE Use Outside of a Work Environment
Overnight, we have all had to become somewhat well-informed on PPE and the points listed above, and to do this with minimal training – possibly only what we see on a broadcast, watch in a YouTube video or hear from a family member that is in the medical field. This lack of formal, consistent instruction leads many people to improperly utilize items like face masks, and unfortunately almost doesn’t count when you’re dealing with viruses and contagions.
The Center for Disease Control, or CDC, has specific very clear directions on how to handle the removal of a face mask after usage:
“The front of the mask is considered contaminated and should not be touched. Remove by handling only the ties or elastic bands starting with the bottom then top tie or band. Lift the mask or respirator away from the face and discard it into the designated waste receptacle.”
This should immediately be followed by a thorough cleaning of your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
How to Better Understand Your PPE
If you want to be more conscious and protective of yourself and others, let’s explore more about what you need to do to contain any spread of a virus or infection.
- Vigorously wash your hands
- Position a clean, sanitized mask on your nose
- If the mask has a metal nose piece, clamp that tightly on the bridge of your nose
- If there are straps, tie the first set high on the back of your head, making sure that there isn’t much movement or slippage of the mask on the nose
- If you have elastic bands, the top high on the back of your head or around the ears depending upon the type of band you are using
- Pull the fabric or material under your chin
- Tie the second set of straps (or place the bottom elastic band) at the base of your skull
- Make all adjustments at this point in time so as not to contaminate your hands at any later point
- When removing, the only items that should be touched are the straps. Untie the straps or remove by grabbing the elastic bands, being careful not to let them slip or slap your head or hands
- Dispose of the mask in a container that won’t be touched and has a liner
- Wash your hands after removing the contaminated mask, or before putting on another
You Can’t be too Careful
This may sound excessive, but if you are truly serious about not spreading or catching any sort of infection, this is only a starting point. Think about how our healthcare professionals have to dress, the procedures they must follow with each patient and the care they must take when discarding all that PPE, you would begin to understand how PPE has different standards for the general population versus medical professionals.
By no means are we suggesting that every outing should be prefaced by the donning of a gown, face mask, eye protection and gloves. Yet, maybe we can take a few notes from the highly attuned practice of taking care not to touch PPE that might contain viruses and microorganisms.
The world we live in right now is a little different and requires more attention on our part. If you are trying to not be a spreader of COVID-19, you must know how to use your PPE appropriately. Let’s all educate ourselves concerning the proper use and wearing of face masks.