1. “As long as I wear PPE, I am safe”
FALSE! PPE is your last line of defense. However, just because you wear it, it does not automatically guarantee your safety. Therefore, when choosing what PPE to wear, it is important that you consider the following:
Firstly, fit. Ill-fitting PPE is a safety hazard as it does not effectively protect the wearer. For example, a study by the University of Cambridge discovered that the mask fit is more important than the material that it is made from*. The study used high-performance masks, such as the N95 mask, and found that when not worn properly, it performs no better than a cloth mask. Therefore, fit is key.
Secondly, the situation and anticipated exposure is important to consider when choosing your PPE. Is it a low-risk or a high-risk environment? Is it an infectious or sterile environment?
By keeping these considerations of fit and anticipated exposure in mind, you will be in a better position to select the correct PPE and understand whether you are safely protected or dangerously exposed.
2. “The more PPE worn, the better”
FALSE! The reason for the vast variety of PPE is because each serves a certain purpose in a certain environment. Therefore, unless advised otherwise, there is no reason to wear multiple layers of PPE as this can harm you rather than help you.
For example, wearing PPE leaves users prone to heat stress as PPE holds in excess heat and moisture thereby inhibiting the body’s normal ability to cool down through sweating**. Additionally, wearing excessive layers of PPE can be problematic as it may restrict movement, thereby, compromising the wearer’s ability to perform tasks. On top this, unnecessary layers of disposable PPE creates added waste and consequently, greater environmental pollution.
Therefore, opt for the right PPE for the right situation as opposed to layering up. At the end of the day, comfort = compliance = protection.
3. “All brands of PPE are created equally; the manufacturer doesn’t matter much”
FALSE! Not all PPE is made the same which is why it is vital to do your homework on your manufacturer. During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world saw the circulation of sub-standard PPE, for example, the UK received a shipment of faulty PPE from Turkey***. Procurement teams have a duty to vet their suppliers and manufacturers. Does the manufacturer conduct product testing at accredited labs? Does the manufacturer have the appropriate manufacturing accreditations, for example, ISO 13485? Are the product and manufacturing certificates legitimate? The HIDA infographic is a good place to start.
Not validating such factors can lead to the purchase of sub-standard PPE which will ultimately put your workforce at risk.
4. “If an employee doesn’t want to wear PPE, I can’t force them to”
FALSE! Regulations around the world, for example, OSHA, require employers to protect employees from workplace hazards. This means that employers must provide PPE and ensure that it is being utilized. If employees refuse to do so, they can be suspended or terminated based on the situation. However, if an employee refuses to wear PPE, it is important to understand why.
Is it because of a lack of awareness of the risks? If so, educational training sessions may be required. Is it because of the lack of comfort? Poorly fitting and ergonomically designed PPE is something that employers can address by choosing the right PPE from the right manufacturer, such as MAS+. Or is it due to religious reasons? Legislations in some jurisdictions allow for the refusal to wear PPE based on this. For example, The UK’s Employment Act 1989 exempts Sikhs who wear turbans from wearing head protection. In such situations, employers should try tailor the employee’s work patterns in a way that removes workplace hazards where possible.
So, there you have it! Key myths about PPE, busted! Whether you are an employer or an employee, it is critical that you take note of these myths so that you can make the right decision when deciding where to procure your PPE from and how to wear it.
* University of Cambridge. 2021. Proper fit of face masks is more important than material, study suggests. [online] Available at: <https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/proper-fit-of-face-masks-is-more-important-than-material-study-suggests> [Accessed 29 April 2021]
** Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. NIOSH Heat Stress Topic Page. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/heat_burden.html> [Accessed 29 April 2021]
*** BBC News. 2021. Coronavirus PPE: Gowns ordered from Turkey fail to meet safety standards. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52569364> [Accessed 30 April 2021]