Frequent PPE Changes Imperative in the Healthcare Sector
Those working within many different areas of healthcare often wear protective clothing to maintain strong levels of hygiene, reduce the spread of disease and protect themselves and their patients from unnecessary risk. However, recent reports suggest that simply wearing good quality PPE may not be enough, and that it may be necessary to change workwear regularly and frequently to ensure optimal health and safety at work.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently undertook a small scale study to learn more about disease transmission. The findings show that respiratory viruses can linger on healthcare PPE for much longer than was first thought, with 31% of gloves, 21% of surgical gowns, and 12% of face masks testing positive for virus pathogens even after caring for a patient. A similar research study concluded that influenza and some forms of coronavirus like SARS can live on surfaces and protective garments ‘for hours’.
Staying Safe at Work
In order to remain safe and healthy within the workplace, and minimise the risk of pathogen spread, it is advised that those in the healthcare sector change their PPE more regularly than would be expected. Frequent washing of protective clothing in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions is also recommended. When purchasing PPE, healthcare workers are urged to consider fluorocarbon treated fabrics over chemically protected overalls, with one study showing that fluorocarbon gowns demonstrated less surface adherence, resulting in fewer pathogens being present.
Advice from the HSE is to properly store, check, and clean PPE including lab coats, aprons, and overalls. Following events in close proximity with patients presenting with respiratory or blood borne viruses, PPE should be removed carefully and kept away from uncontaminated PPE and normal clothing until cleaned. The HSE also recommends disposing of PPE in situations where decontamination is not possible.
Above and Beyond
As the findings from the US Centers of Disease Control are relatively new, it may not yet be necessary for healthcare workers to change PPE frequently in order to remain compliant with legislation. However, in this sector, it is vital to stay up-to-date with the latest news, and take the necessary measures to adapt processes to maintain high levels of hygiene, health, and safety in healthcare environments. Contamination of clothing can result in the rapid spread of pathogens through self-contact and contact with patients, which not only increases risk for healthcare workers themselves, but also for anyone within the environment including patients, their families, and other visitors.