Personal protective equipment is in the headlines as the nation responds to the coronavirus outbreak, but PPE covers more than medical masks and gloves. A range of PPE is available to workers in medical, construction and other industries to protect against safety hazards that include sharp materials, falling objects, chemical spills, low visibility and workplace noise.
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Do I need to wear PPE?
If you are in the medical industry or other select industries, your workplace may require PPE. However, medical experts encourage the public to resist purchasing medical-grade masks, face shields and other PPE to avoid shortages for healthcare workers and those taking care of the sick on the front lines.
What’s current UK government advice?
The UK government have stipulated that members of the public must wear face coverings in shops and on public transport. The aim of this is to prevent people who have the virus but are not experiencing symptoms from passing it on to others. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland give their own advice on such restrictions. Face coverings are already enforced in shops and on public transport in Scotland. In Wales and Northern Ireland, mask-wearing is recommended for enclosed spaces such as shops or public transport.
Can I reuse my PPE?
Not unless it’s specifically marketed as reusable and you use it exactly as designed. Even if your gear is marketed as reusable, it could require disposal if exposed to the risk it’s designed to protect you from, like fire or chemicals.
PPE marketed as disposable is designed for one-time use by one person only. Washing may be possible but could change an item’s protective capabilities, exposing you to further risk. For some items, removal can render them unusable or ineffective.
Read the manufacturing details that apply to your PPE to learn the specifics about reuse. And weigh any benefits of reusing your PPE in personal or workplace settings against the risks you’re exposing yourself to.
How do I choose the right PPE for my circumstances?
To start, think about the areas of your body that are vulnerable to injury in your workplace and the type of risk you’re protecting it from. If for personal use — say, for home projects — a local retailer can be a good place to start.
Not only can masks protect you from damage as a result of inhaling chemicals, gasses or particulates, but they can also protect vulnerable people around you from catching infectious diseases you might be fighting. These physical barriers range from surgical respirators to disposable medical masks and homemade cloth coverings, depending on your workplace hazards.
Look for gloves designed to fit the specific conditions your workplace requires. Chemical-resistant gloves are appropriate for those who work with corrosive liquids or flammable compounds, and they come in degrees of resistance. Insulated gloves can protect against fire or other heat sources. Disposable nitrile gloves are best for protection against biological hazards.
Safety glasses can protect your eyes from chemical splashes, falling objects and exposure to infectious diseases. Depending on the workplace risk, you may require wrap-around protection, built-in magnification or flexibility for use with your own prescription glasses. Emergency eyewash stations can provide on-site decontamination after accidental exposure.
Hearing protection is crucial in workplaces or for hobbies where noise exposure exceeds requirements. Depending on your needs, you might need disposable earplugs, external ear muffs or other types of PPE. Models can be custom-molded, noise-canceling or Bluetooth-enabled to fit a range of personal needs.
PPE can protect your body from injury, such as the protection provided by Kevlar sleeves, and prevent repetitive stress through back-support belts, knee pads and other ergonomics. Bibs and overalls are designed to protect against flames, chemical exposure and visibility in the workplace.
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