What is PPE?

PPE, also known as personal protective equipment, is any wearable item that keeps an individual safe from hazardous materials, OPIM, and blood.

Examples of PPE include:

  • Face shields
  • CPR covers or shields
  • Suitable gloves
  • Goggles
  • Lab Coats and gowns
  • Face masks and respirators

Face shield

As required, employees should wear PPE to reduce the likelihood of exposure to bloodborne pathogens significantly. In circumstances where large-scale contamination is expected, the use of hoods, shoe covers, or caps should also be included as PPE.

All PPE works to create a solid barrier between an employee and the source of potential exposure or infection. Before arriving at the scene of an incident or accident, it’s vital to assess and consider which PPE is suitable for an individual situation.

For each purpose or task, PPE should be selected accordingly and should be immediately available to employees at all takes. In some extremely rare cases, such as emergencies, employees may not have the time or access to PPE necessary. If an incident of this type occurs, it’s vital to record the situation comprehensively to prevent reoccurrence.

If an employee is allergic to one or more types of PPE, employers should provide a readily available alternative. It is also the employer’s responsibility to ensure employees are familiar with using PPE and the situations in which PPE is required when working with OPIM, hazardous substances, or blood.

Examples of personal protective equipment include CPR covers or shields, which prevent exposure when an individual is performing CPR. Face shields are another example of PPE, working to avert high-impact splatter and splashing, while gloves avoid contact with infectious materials, heat, cutting, and chemicals. PPE gloves must be worn on the correct hands.

PPE googles are used to prevent infection via splatter, splashes, or debris and prevent laser radiation and chemical damage. Gowns and lab coats can be used to provide torso and leg protection against infectious blood, OPIM, and any other hazardous materials. Masks are used to protect against airborne materials and any liquid that may contact the face or mouth.

Cleaning and decontaminating PPE

As part of their duties, employees should be responsible for the cleaning, disposal, and sterilization of surfaces and materials that have had contact with bloodborne pathogens. Employers are required to protect their employees from this exposure and minimize the disinfection or cleaning process risks. PPE can be used to provide that protection.

What cleaning guidelines should be in place?

Any surface that has visible contamination of any material, from vomit to bodily fluids to blood or feces, should be immediately and appropriately disinfected and cleaned. For bulk materials or visible contamination, disinfectants should first be used before removal or clean-up is carried out. Following the disposal, the area of contamination should then be thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated with disinfectant. Any areas where contamination is suspected without visual confirmation should also be thoroughly decontaminated to reduce the risk of exposure.

For spills of any size, the use of absorbent material should be the first step to prevent spread. A disinfectant should then be used for full saturation of the area. This allows for the sterilization of infectious materials and viral contamination. Sufficient ventilation must be used, and staff must receive full training on using and protecting themselves against chemical disinfectants if these products are required.

Using disinfectants effectively

Following a bulk spill, it is a requirement that surfaces are effectively disinfected and decontaminated. This requires using an EPA-registered form of disinfectant, which is suitable for use on non-enveloped viruses. Should commercial products be unavailable, standard household bleach and similar products may be used as a replacement. A ratio of 1:10 bleach to water is effective in decontaminating an area. You mustn’t mix additional chemical combinations, as this can reduce effectiveness and result in harmful fumes in some instances.

Using respiratory protection and equipment

Workers exposed to airborne or aerosolized blood, hazardous material or OPIM should use proper respiratory protection to ensure their safety. If this is a regular occurrence or considered risk, the fitting of N95 NIOSH-approved respirators is a minimum requirement.

PPE for cleaning

The choice of on-site PPE that an employer has on-site must provide optimal safety for workers who risk exposure to bloodborne pathogens as part of their tasks. This includes all cleaning duties, where suitable PPE can consist of gloves, goggles, face masks, gowns, and face shields. In addition, supplying protective shoe, leg, and sleeve coverings can reduce the risks of exposure to infectious materials. In some cases, the use of face masks with respiratory protection may be suitable in environments where blood, OPIM, or hazardous substances are found.

Removing PPE

All PPE should be removed before an employee leaves the room and must be disposed of safely in designated storage for disposal, washing, storage or decontamination. Once the individual employee has completed all cleaning and disinfection required, their PPE should be removed before they wash their hands at a handwashing station with soap and water. If no station is available, hand gel with an alcohol base may be used for handwashing.

Properly disposing of cleaning waste

All PPE and cleaning materials used as part of decontamination should be completely soaked in a suitable disinfectant. Once this process is complete, these items can be double-bagged and placed in an appropriate, designated leak-proof container. In the case of sharps, a puncture-proof or sharps-specific container should be used. According to product guidelines, any porous items that cannot be decontaminated or disinfected effectively should be disposed of.

Correct handwashing procedures

Handwashing should be covered in your guidelines for employees. This should include a provision and process for employees to access handwashing equipment as soon as blood contacts the mucous membranes, eyes, or skin. Handwashing should be carried out following the removal of PPE and gloves.

If no running water is accessible, alternatives should be defined. These alternatives could include hand sanitizers or disinfectant towels. On remote sites, employees should be able to wash their hands in running water as soon as possible following an incident.

Flushing the eyes and mouth

If an employee’s eyes make contact with OPIM or blood, they should immediately flush with water or appropriate eyewash for 5-10 minutes. For contact with the mouth, rinsing for 5-10 minutes is recommended.

Decontaminating equipment

All equipment should be thoroughly decontaminated before transportation, repair, or handling. You should have a clear outline of the process to clean equipment before it is handled. This may include instructions for disassembly to clean internal parts if required.

If full decontamination is not possible, a biohazard label should be attached to the machine. You will also be required to list the parts of the equipment that may still be contaminated. Sheets of paper, self-adhesive labels, and string tags are all accepted labeling methods.

Handling specimens

Should your employees need to handle specimens, you will be required to outline the proper practice for handling. This process could include providing information on the appropriate way to package specimens. For workplaces where handling of samples is not required, this process is not necessary.

Handling needles

Unless necessary, no needle should ever be bent or recapped by hand. The procedures you put in place must require the correct disposal of sharps in a designated puncture-resistant bin that is readily available and identifiable. All containers should be close to areas where sharps are found or used.

Note: The decisions you make for sharps disposal much be based on professional insight and judgment. For example, you could choose to place sharps containers in every examining room where needles are used. Even sharps with inbuilt injury protection should be disposed of in this appropriate manner. – Equipment Note: Bloodborne Pathogens Certification Class.