Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), One Size Does Not Fit All.

In our previous blogpost, we discussed Ebola and the use of personal protective equipment.  Since then the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has come out with revised guidance on purchasing PPE and protocols for wearing PPE while handling patients with the Ebola virus disease.  Find this information here.  

A disposable nitrile rubber glove. Nitrile glo...
A disposable nitrile rubber glove. Nitrile gloves are available in different colours, the most common being blue and purpleCitation needed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast Company Co.Design's article "Why Protective Gear Isn't Stopping Ebola" has an interesting discussion on the problems with PPE.  This discussion includes the usual complaints that its uncomfortable, it doesn't fit, restricts movement, visibility, etc.  It is interesting that before wearing a tight fitting respirator a worker must be either qualitatively or quantitatively fit tested with the respirator they will be wearing.  However, when it comes to PPE (like gloves or protective suits) there is no fit testing.  If you bought these items as clothing, you would try them on and purchase the best fitting one.
Asbestos Hands-on Demonstration
There is an unspoken assumption that the employer will purchase different sizes allowing workers to select the size that fits them the most comfortably.  This assumption is typically wrong and what actually happens is most employers buy larger sizes in the sense that one size fits all or they buy the size that fits the most people.  This results in complaints that wearing the PPE is more hazardous than not wearing it, which of course is the case if you are wearing ill-fitting or incorrect fitting PPE.

Wearing the proper PPE is not only about the right size, it is also about wearing the right type.  How many of you know that protective equipment are tested for how cut resistant they are?  The cut protection performance test (CPPT) is an American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) F 1790 standard cut test for protective equipment.  A glove's performance rating is classified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) 105-2005 from a 0-5 level, with 5 being the best cut performance, based on the outcome of the CPPT test.  Gloves are also tested for how long it takes for chemicals to breakthrough, degrade, or permeate the material the glove is made of.  ASTM F739 standard details the process for testing protective equipment for liquid and gas permeation (the video clip below shows how this is done).  Ansell Healthcare produces the "Chemical Resistance Guide" that includes permeation and degradation data for various glove material and a rating system.

When selecting PPE for your workers, unfortunately its not as simple as looking in a catalog and buying the cheapest PPE and/or buying one size that will fit most or all.  As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard (1910.133) requires for PPE, you must assess the hazard you want the PPE to protect the worker from and then find the best fitting PPE so the worker will wear it comfortably without creating a greater hazard.

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