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Advices to ensure you have the right personal protective equipment (PPE) in your work setting

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

Here you'll find essential advice and information to help ensure you have the right personal protective equipment (PPE) in your work setting. SARS-CoV-2 can be spread via airborne, droplet or contaminated surfaces including hands and gloves.

About PPE

PPE is designed to protect you from harmful substances such as chemicals or infectious agents. In a pandemic situation, it can also help prevent the transmission of infection between staff and patients. PPE is one measure within the hierarchy of controls used in the workplace. The type of PPE you need will depend on a risk assessment which should include the environment you work in and the procedures you carry out. Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) such as FFP3 and FFP2 masks are a form of PPE and, where a risk assessment or national guidance indicates that they should be used, they must be fit tested.

Remember: PPE is just one way of protecting staff at work. Handwashing, social distancing measures, training, workplace cleaning practices, ventilation, vaccination and risk assessments for staff health also play an important role in infection prevention and control and managing the safety of staff and patients. Under health and safety legislation, employers have a duty to ensure that risk assessments are carried out and control measures put in place to reduce the risk of harm to staff and patients. The hierarchy of controls should be prioritised and used to guide safe practice in the workplace. This hierarchy contains a number of risk controls to assess and manage prior to the use of PPE and (in the case of SARS-Co-V2 management) includes actions such as isolation of patients suspected or known to have COVID-19, safe systems of work, the provision of policies, education/training, and finally the use of PPE.

Gowns and coveralls

The previous shortage of long sleeved non-surgical gowns to protect HCWs working in high risk areas or performing aerosol generating procedures (AGP) has led the Health and Safety Executive to approve the use of disposable coveralls as an alternative to gowns for high risk activities or for staff working in such areas.

The safe donning and doffing (putting on and taking off) of coveralls is required and HCWs required to use coveralls should receive training from their employer on how to do this safely. Coveralls provided for use in health care to deliver care for COVID-19 related activities must meet the required procurement specifications. Long sleeves and hand hygiene – some members have reported being asked to cut the sleeves short to facilitate hand hygiene. Likewise, some Trusts support rolling up of sleeves to support hand hygiene and unnecessary glove use. Members should follow their local IPC policies/guidance.

Reusing PPE

Single use equipment including PPE is defined by manufacturers as ‘any medical equipment, instrument or apparatus designed to only be used once and then disposed of’. They are identified through this symbol present on packaging or equipment instructions.

Single use masks and gowns should not be washed/laundered and then reused, as this process may render their protective elements ineffective and damage them, placing the health care worker at risk.

If you have been asked to reuse PPE, you should raise the following questions with your employer in writing:

  • Why are we in this position?

  • Has the risk assessment been revised and what are the revisions? Please provide me with a copy.

  • What are the additional risks to me and my colleagues?

  • Confirm the additional risks that are created by reusing PPE

  • What other control measures have been considered?

  • What considerations have been made before getting to a point of reusing PPE?

  • What assessment has been made that the PPE is suitable to reuse?

  • What qualification does the person have in order to inspect the PPE in order to say it is suitable to wear again?

  • What is the agreed action plan to support implementation of this shortage and does it include a consideration of all measures to manage usage effectively? Please provide me with a copy.

  • How long in time am I expected to reuse PPE?

Ask for the answers to these questions in writing and use your local reporting procedures to record each time you are placed in this position.


If you need Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health workforce during COVID-19 please visit: MW Medical virtual shop

Sources: Royal College of Nursing.

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