Free article: Personal protective equipment

Published: Thursday, 23 March 2017

Martin Hodgson looks at the importance of using personal protective equipment in a care environment.

Summary

  • Employers have a duty to supply adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staff where required.
  • In a care setting, PPE will typically be employed to manage infection control or cleaning risks.
  • During risk assessments, when they identify any hazards, care managers should identify whether any PPE will be required to control the risks.
  • Managers should procure suitable PPE from a reliable source and train staff to use it properly.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to protective clothing or equipment, such as disposable gloves, aprons, helmets, goggles, designed to protect a member of staff from injury or infection.

Legislation

Employers have duties concerning the provision and use of PPE under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (as amended).

Wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways, the regulations require PPE to be supplied by the employer.

The regulations also require that PPE is:

  • properly assessed before use to make sure it is fit for purpose
  • maintained and stored properly
  • provided with instructions on how to use it safely
  • used correctly by employees.

An employer cannot ask for money from an employee for PPE, whether it is returnable or not. This includes agency workers, if they are legally regarded as employees.

Risk assessments and PPE

During risk assessments, when they identify any hazards, care managers should identify whether any PPE will be required to control the risks.

PPE can be used to control and minimise risk and can be most effective at doing so. However, as PPE only protects the person who is wearing it – and then only if they are using it properly – it should only be used as a last resort after more effective control measures have been considered, for example removing the hazard altogether.

In all cases, employers should ask themselves whether the PPE will provide adequate protection against hazards that cannot be controlled in a more effective way.

Staff should be informed of the results of any risk assessment and told what PPE they must use and how to use it. A PPE policy should be in place that is communicated to all staff in addition to references to PPE in other policies and procedures. For example, infection control policies will make reference to the use of protective disposable gloves and aprons.

PPE used in care settings

In a care setting, PPE will be typically employed to control some risks involving exposure to chemical substances and to micro-organisms or infectious agents.

Thus a member of care staff will be required to wear disposable gloves and aprons when providing personal or clinical care for a service user, minimising the risk of spreading infection. In addition, care staff or, in care homes, a cleaner will be required to employ gloves, aprons and sometimes goggles or face-shields when using chemical disinfectants and detergents to decontaminate and clean blood spillages.

In care homes, PPE will also be used in catering to ensure food hygiene.

Suitability of PPE

All PPE should be suitable for the purpose it is to be used for and adequate for controlling the identified risks.

When assessing the suitability of PPE, managers should ask:

  • Does the PPE protect the wearer from the risks and take account of the environmental conditions where the task is taking place?
  • Does using PPE increase the overall level of risk or add new risks, e.g. by making communication more difficult?
  • Can the PPE be adjusted to fit the wearer correctly?

Fit and comfort are important considerations in using PPE. Poorly fitting or uncomfortable PPE will discourage staff from using it and this may expose them to risk.

If different items of PPE are worn together, they must be compatible with each other.

In care settings, it is unlikely that staff will have to wear heavy or complicated PPE, but the comfort and use of PPE common in care settings, for example disposable gloves, is important. Employers in care homes and domiciliary care should ensure that the gloves they supply to staff are appropriate for the tasks they will perform and are safe and comfortable to wear.

In some cases the health of the wearer may have to be considered. For instance, if a member of care staff has a latex sensitivity, non-latex disposable gloves will have to be provided.

Using PPE

Managers and supervisors should ensure that staff are using the PPE supplied in the correct manner every time it is needed. Where a job has been assessed as requiring PPE, it should always be employed for that task, no matter how minor. Managers should never allow exemptions for the sake of speed or inconvenience. They should investigate any incidents where PPE may have not been used properly.

Procuring suitable PPE

Managers should procure PPE from a reliable source and maintain adequate stock to ensure that the organisation always has equipment available and does not run out. All PPE should be CE marked and must be of sufficient quality.

Where necessary, managers should contact suppliers for advice on the types of PPE available and their suitability for different tasks. In some cases they may need to get advice from specialists or from the PPE manufacturer.

If something changes on the job, managers and supervisors should check that the PPE is still appropriate.

Storing and maintaining PPE

PPE should be well looked after and properly and securely stored when it is not being used, e.g. in a clean, dry store cupboard. However, this should not prevent it being readily available to staff when they need it. In a care home, a central store that the duty manager has access to will suffice. In a domiciliary care service, suitable supplies of PPE (gloves and aprons) should be issued to each member of care staff.

PPE should be kept clean and in good repair, with managers following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedules and instructions for use and care, including recommended replacement periods and shelf lives. Out-of-date PPE should be disposed of and replaced.

Employees should be asked to report any defective PPE or any loss of PPE.

Training and supervision

New staff should receive adequate induction training, which should include basic health and safety information, including the need for and use of PPE.

Managers and supervisors should:

  • instruct and train staff on how to use the PPE properly
  • tell them why it is needed, when to use it and what its limitations are
  • obtain specialist training from a specialist adviser where necessary.

Further information

  • L25 Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Second edition) – Guidance on Regulations (published in 2015), is available for free download from the Health and Safety Executive website.

Toolkit

Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Martin Hodgson MSc, PGCEA is a community psychiatric nurse by background, and has had a long career working as a senior manager in various health agencies, including mental health, primary and community care.

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