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Medical PPE Failings Reflect The Need For Vigilance

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Medical PPE Failings Reflect The Need For Vigilance

If PPE would be deployed effectively anywhere, you’d think it would be the medical sector. The need to shield medical personnel from contagions arguably outweighs the risks of particulates and contaminants that we face everyday. Yet two recent studies point to a shocking lack of expertise in how to use protective equipment.

In one study from last year, almost 80% of participants contaminated themselves while removing their PPE. In a smaller follow-up test, where participants were advised on the correct process, the percentage who contaminated themselves actually increased, although the contamination level was reduced. Another test reported on last month identified 103 separate common failings in the way PPE was removed, which may have contributed to the deaths of 600 healthcare workers during the Ebola epidemic. (Read More)


Another study published last month found that professional gardeners and horticulture workers had a low level of pesticide exposure due to absent or improper RPE. Elsewhere, a separate report by The Vision Council claimed that 90% of the more than 300,000 yearly workplace eye injuries in the U.S. could have been prevented by wearing proper eye protection. People, it seems, have a pervasive issue with proper PPE use.

The problems reported by the participants in the first study will be common to many of us: many said that the gear was cumbersome and time-consuming to apply. But they also reported a lack of certainty in their training, and a lack of confidence that certain items of PPE were actually effective in preventing the transmission of contagions. In spite of the increased risks which medical PPE caters to, personnel clearly still undervalued its role in keeping them safe.

If even medical workers are not using PPE correctly, one shudders to think how poorly protective equipment is being applied in the industrial and engineering sectors. Hazards such as dust, gas and metal splash can seem far less immediate or serious than bacteria, yet the damage can be equally serious, both in the short and long term. Ironically, the improvements in engineering controls and other safety measures can also present an illusion of safety, where people feel less of a need to use PPE as a failsafe.

The blame cannot be portioned entirely on workers, nor are all workers at fault. PPE and RPE are both underappreciated and misunderstood across the industry, with the need to fit them correctly still widely ignored. This is a particular problem for female employees, who still in many cases have to put up with refitted or improvised male PPE and RPE. This is inherently unsafe, and despite increasing efforts to manufacture tailored equipment for women, too many companies ignore the need to provide it.

Problems also arise from a lack of appreciation for unseen hazards. Airborne contaminants are a particular issue, with the dangers of silicon by-products (such as from cutting or blasting wood and metal) still ignored by many. Many workers either don’t realise the serious respiratory damage that these particulates can cause, or overestimate the role of extractors or open air in mitigating the problem. RPE is mandatory in the vast majority of instances when dealing with these materials, yet too many still ignore it, or are not provided with the right equipment.

All of this serves to reiterate what many of us already know: that PPE and RPE both play a critical role in the prevention of serious injury and occupational disease. However, the breadth of the problem should be a wake-up call to every industry where PPE is used. Without better education and testing, we could be at greater risk than anyone realises.

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