PPE, short for Personal Protective Equipment, includes gloves, gowns, plastic aprons, masks/face shields and eye protection. It aims to prevent exposure of healthcare workers and patients/residents to infectious agents (p.18). Workers may use one or all types of PPE (sometimes called protective barriers) to protect mucous membranes, airways, skin and clothing from contact with infectious agents.

Selecting which type of PPE a worker needs to wear is based on the type of resident/patient interaction, known or possible infectious agents, and/or the likely mode of transmission (p. 121).

For example, if a resident has a respiratory infection, transmission of the infection could occur through droplets that a person breathes in, and on surfaces that a person could touch. To prevent this transmission, the healthcare worker would wear a gown, gloves and mask when in close contact with the infected person. Eyewear would be worn if performing a task where there is a risk of body substances splashing into their eyes. The cleaners would ensure they also wore a gown, mask and gloves when cleaning the room, as they are exposed to the same risk of transmission. Rooms with known infectious patients should be cleaned last.

TGA-Approval

The NHMRC’s Australian Guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control 2019 recommend that all PPE must meet relevant Therapeutic Goods administration criteria (i.e. be TGA approved) for listing on the Australian Register of Therapeutic goods (ARTG) or meet the equivalent and relevant Australian Standards (p. 122).

PPE should also be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and be applied and removed in the correct sequence to control the risk of contamination.

Examples of PPE

Below are some examples of the various PPE, and a short description adapted from those on the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.4

Masks

surgical mask
A surgical mask
  • Utility mask: A flexible cloth barrier that is placed over the mouth. This is not a regulated medical device and should only be used for procedures were fluid, sprays or aerosols are not a concern. It does not provide protection from COVID-19.
  • Surgical mask: Surgical masks are clinical equipment worn over the nose and mouth of patients or caregivers/medical personnel who are displaying symptoms. Their role is to create a barrier the wearer and the environment, preventing airborne transmission of pathogens. Surgical masks are graded as level 1, 2 or 3 based on the level of protection or fluid resistance provided.
  • N95 respirator: A close-fitting face covering designed to filter out airborne particles, including biological particles such as viruses and bacteria. Correctly worn, these can prevent the transmission of airborne diseases, as they filter out a minimum of 95% of solid and liquid aerosols. They are single use and must be appropriately graded (i.e. from a reputable supplier) to ensure effectiveness. P2 respirators offer similar protection to N95s, but are designed, manufactured and tested to different but comparable standards. For the purposes of reducing exposure to COVID-19, P2 and N95 respirators can be used interchangeably. Surgical N95/P2 respirators are also held to the same standards as N95 masks. However they are also tested for fluid resistance against synthetic blood penetration under different pressures, such as may occur during certain medical procedures.
A nurse in a gown, visor and goggles wearing a mask

Non-mask PPE

Surgical Gown: A fluid-resistant, disposable garment over a scrub suit to cover the arms, trunk and upper legs, during a surgical procedure. They help protect the patient and operating room personnel from the transfer of microorganisms and body fluids.

Goggles: Eyewear/glasses with clear lenses to shield the eyes of healthcare staff from blood and other body fluid splashes during procedures. They are designed as non-prescription or prescription goggles or spectacles with lenses and side shields, which offer additional physical barrier protection.

Visors: A transparent device intended to shield the face and eyes of a healthcare worker from splashes during procedures. Visors are suitable for use with prescription lenses and protective masks.

Key points:

  1. The wearing of appropriate PPE such as a gown, masks and gloves is a routine part of infection prevention and control in healthcare and is used for the safety of everyone
  2. Wear PPE according to the assessed risk
  3. Wear PPE according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  4. Put on (don) and take off (doff) PPE in the correct sequence to prevent cross-contamination
  5. The use of PPE is not enough, hand hygiene must also be done before putting on and after taking the items off
  6. If PPE is not single use or disposable (eyewear, goggles), then the item must be cleaned between uses. A process for doing this must be in place and be followed.

REMEMBER – It’s okay to question a co-worker on whether they should be using PPE, or whether they are using it properly. Infection Prevention and Control is everybody’s responsibility. Keep safe!

If you have any questions about PPE or how to keep your staff and facilities safe from infection, why not contact Bug Control for an obligation-free consultation? Alternatively, if you’re looking for more ways to take your infection prevention and control to the next level, why not read more on our blog?