Personal protective equipment for coronavirus at work

10 July 2020

With lockdown regulations easing in Ireland, you can now start returning more employees back to your business premises.

However, the virus is still amongst us. So, you need to perform a health & safety workplace risk assessment for COVID-19.

After this inspection, part of your control measures may require personal protective equipment at work for coronavirus. This can help to keep your staff, customers, and visitors safe from infection.

You can call us on 0818 923 923 for quick answers to any of your questions on this topic. But throughout this guide we explain the types of PPE you may need.

What is personal protective equipment?

PPE is any appliance or device that an employee can wear—or hold—for protection from health & safety risks.

In the case of current world events, that includes the coronavirus pandemic. Which brings with it an unprecedented need to protect staff at work.

Social distancing is one of the best approaches your business can take—enforcing a two-metre gap rule.

However, you may also need to take additional steps with protective equipment. That depends on the type of industry you’re in.

So, here are COVID-19 recommended PPE types and the rationale for use:

  • Facemasks: To prevent infection others, while also protecting individuals from getting the infection.
  • Disposable gloves: To prevent hands from becoming covered with germs—the gloves can limit the spread of these, although it’s important to dispose of them daily. And continue with a rigorous cleaning routine.
  • Face shield: This will prevent employees spreading germs around them—they can use the equipment in tandem with facemasks and gloves.
  • Isolation gowns: Primarily in use in healthcare—it helps prevent germs from lingering on people’s normal clothing. This can stop the spread of infection.

Remember, it’s your duty of care as an employer to look after the welfare of employees.

It’s a legal requirement under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. Section 8 highlights:

“Where risks cannot be eliminated or adequately controlled or in such circumstances as may be prescribed, providing and maintaining such suitable protective clothing and equipment as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees.”

So, you need to take steps to limit the risks coronavirus poses in your working environment.

Why should you wear personal protective equipment?

PPE helps to reduce the risks health & safety hazards pose. You have a duty of care to your staff to project them from harm. So, these are essential requirements in the months ahead.

Along with social distancing, health & safety equipment can contain the virus—and limits its spread.

For example, facemasks can be effective in stopping germs from spreading around working environments.

You must also think of the commercial considerations. If you’re a retail store, for example, your customers may well expect your staff to wear PPE.

If you don’t, they may lose confidence in your health & safety capacity.

So, it’s important to take the necessary steps to reduce all the risks in around your workplace.

When to use different type of personal protective equipment

This will depend on the type of industry you work in and the business you operate.

If you perform a risk assessment (for example, we have an office risk assessment for coronavirus template you can adapt) then this’ll determine the steps you need to take.

Social distancing may prove effective enough in your office, along with an increase in cleanliness and hygiene.

However, if you identify that it’s not always possible to maintain a two-metre gap, then you may wish to introduce PPE.

For example, wearing a facemask and providing gloves. This is a recommendation for employees working in shops with customers.

As wearing facemasks is now mandatory on public transport, commuting staff may also need to wear PPE to limit their risk of infection as they travel to and from work.

Again, you’ll need to review your situation, speak with employees individually, and determine what steps you need to take.

How and when to use personal protective equipment

Whether you use PPE or not depends on your business requirements and the requests from employees.

If you’re in a customer-facing industry, for example, then you may wish to use facemasks and gloves.

However, if staff wish to use these in an office environment, or elsewhere, you should provide the equipment and they can wear the items as they see fit.

Below we briefly discuss the appropriate steps for wearing the items:

  • Gloves: Single-use items that staff can wear during the day. You can use them for contact with sterile environments and for all activities. However, you must dispose of each pair at the end of each working day. Prior to wearing the items, staff should also always wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds.
  • Facemasks: Secure these around the crown of the head (for the top tie) and base of the neck (for the bottom tie). Or if it’s a loop facemask, these should go around the ears. Staff can wear these repeatedly—or for single-use. If it’s a cloth facemask, you should also wash it daily at 60 degrees with detergent.
  • Face shields: As and when you determine this necessary, staff can simply place them around their head.
  • Disposable respirators: You may need to use these in health and social care industries. These aid individuals with breathing—an employee will need training to affix this to themselves, or a patient, correctly.

Personal protective equipment in healthcare settings

In the health sector, especially during important operations and other activities, staff will often have physical contact with patients.

Some of whom may have serious illnesses.

As a result, it’s of high importance your business take the use of PPE more seriously. Patients are of higher risk of infection, so it’s essential to carry out a risk assessment of your working environment.

After this, you can then apply the correct PPE for staff, patients, and visitors. Along with strict social distancing measures, you’ll need to consider widespread usage of disposable gloves, facemasks, and disposable respirators.

Additional equipment includes full isolation gowns, along with face shields and/or goggles.

To support the above requirements, you should also enforce a rigorous cleaning policy around your premises.

As well as provide hand sanitiser and handwashing facilities. This will apply to staff, patients, and visitors.  

Personal protective equipment in social care settings will follow the same approach as above.

Once you complete a risk assessment of individual social care environments, you can then distribute PPE as you required.

Personal protective equipment in health and beauty sector

There’s specialist PPE your business can use once it’s possible for you to reopen from 20th July 2020—as per the Irish government’s Roadmap to Reopening updates.

Along with the standard facemasks and disposable gloves for employees, you can consider face guards. 

After a risk assessment of your workplace, you may take the decision to provide full face shields to staff.

But you must also consider your customers, who may request facemasks and other PPE they may request.

Need our help?

If you need support in making your working environment coronavirus secure, we can help you meet the health & safety requirements: 0818 923 923.

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