Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
An Overview with 7 Major Types
We are hearing a lot of buzz about face masks, hand gloves, full-body suits, and other personal protective equipment in this pandemic. Personal Protective Equipment like face masks, face-shield, gloves, etc plays an important role in preventing the spread of Covid-19. When the president of every country, business tycoons are all concerned about the same thing, it must be really important. In this blog post, you will get to know about 7 major types of protective devices along with their importance and the brief information on this disease.
Learning a bit more about this virus -
SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 is a Coronavirus (Corona — crown; the virus has the shape of a crown when seen under a microscope). The first patients of Covid19 were observed in a fish market at a Chinese city Wuhan, now marked ground zero.
In the pandemic, so far over 11.6 million Indians have been infected, 160K of whom died. Globally, out of 123 million infected, 2.72 million have lost their lives. These alarming statistics demand further study. Let’s go into the causes and controls of this disease.
How did the virus spread?
So far, the Covid 19 spread from person to person through respiratory fluids. An infected person spread this virus in the air. Being in the physical proximity of him/her, a healthy person contracted it. Along with direct respiratory means, the virus is also spread by contaminated surfaces.
We see three major modes of transmission for Covid 19 -
1. Droplets — for shorter range
2. Aerosol — for longer range
3. Fomites — transmission from infected and exposed surfaces
Droplets are particles with a size of more than 5 to10 µm and that of aerosol is less than 5 µm. These droplets originate in the lungs of the infected person. In simple terms, Covid-19 is transmitted through tiny liquid drops containing the virus. These drops spray when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
The droplets are bigger in size and heavier in weight. So, they usually do not suspend in the air for a longer time. Thus, transmission through droplets is over a shorter distance. Droplets can get converted into droplet-nuclei or aerosols. Aerosols are over two times smaller than droplets. Due to their small size, they can suspend in air and cover longer distances. Thus, aerosols are responsible for the airborne transmission of Covid 19.
The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Apart from these airborne means of transmission, the virus tends to spread by fomites. Fomites are the surfaces contaminated due to the accumulation of droplets and aerosols. Viruses in these infected particles, once landed on the surface, can stay active for days. Touching such surfaces and then immediately touching the mouth, nose, face or eyes causes the spread of this infection.
What are the best ways to prevent it?
According to experts worldwide, the best way to prevent infection is to wear a mask and maintain physical distance. The mask acts as a barrier between droplets suspended in the air and a healthy person. Thus it prevents the virus from entering the respiratory system. Along with this, wearing the masks helps the infected person contain the spread of droplets. Physical distance reduces your exposure to droplets and aerosols.
Along with this, free ventilation is also essential to reduce the spread of the disease. The ventilation helps to refresh the air in the room, removing the existing air containing infected aerosols and droplets. This reduces the chances of a person contracting the infection. Lack of ventilation, like in the air conditioned room, causes re-circulation of air. This results in repeat exposure to the infected droplet. Thus, air conditioning increases the chances of contracting the infection while opening windows and letting the fresh air in reduces the same.
According to World Health Organization, the best ways to prevent Covid 19 are –
1. Maintain social distancing of at least one meter
2. Cover your face, wear a face mask
3. Maintain basic hygiene, wash your hands frequently
Life in Pandemic
Living in the pandemic has made face mask a common accessory, like specs or a wristwatch. Use of other personal protective equipment like disposable hand gloves, full-body suits, N-95 respirators, etc. has also increased. This caused increased pull from the market increasing the demand for production. This subsequently increased the production volume in factories.
This boom in manufacturing has boosted the global PPE market turnover. The global PPE industry has grown in the past year, showing over 200% growth. Along with the PPE industry, other dependent supply chains have also flourished. For example — Governments across the world have loosened the licensing and regulation requirements for mask manufacturers. This has encouraged businessmen to set up more facilities. To provide the raw material for increased production, the polymer and paper industry ramped up its production. To support heavy demands, logistic and supply chain networks were established. All this combined contributed to the growth of the PPE market across the world.
Definition of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)-
According to OSHA, definition of Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as ‘PPE’, is ‘An equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses’
This definition holds good for PPEs that protects against occupational hazards, i.e., PPEs that are commonly used on the job. In a generalized way, PPE is a device used by any person to protect himself or herself from the surrounding.
Diving into the details of PPE
For better understanding the way personal protective equipment work, we need to understand their types.
7 Types of PPE -
Generally, types of PPE are based on their functionality and the body part they protect. Broadly, there are 8 types -
1. Head Protection — for fall and hit hazards
These PPEs include Helmets, Hard hats, Bump guards, Caps, etc.
Head protection gear is used for protection from hazardous overhead activities. It is used to prevent injuries resulting from an impact on the head. Projectiles or the objects falling from above, if hit the head, can deal serious damage. A simple nut hitting the head falling from the 5th floor can result in hospitalization. Having a helmet reduces, if not, eliminates the risk. In case of accidental slip or fall, there are chances of head injury and severe damage. Other activities like vehicle crashes can have a similar fate. Having head protection greatly reduces the severity of injury during such accidents.
While dealing with metallic projectiles and direct energy, head protection plays a vital role. For instance, in the machine shop, grinding and metal cutting results in chips and burr that flies outwards. These small particles of metal are very sharp and hot. They can cause serious injury by hitting any body part. Processes like gas welding and open heat treatments have a risk of flame discharge (direct energy). Head protection gear protects the head of the operator against such threats.
Along with this, head protection gear can have a special arrangement for people with longer hair, esp. women. Long hair has a risk of entangling with the moving parts of the machine. This can cause a lethal accident. Head protection gear helps prevent that.
2. Hand Protection — for hazards caused due to touch
These PPE include different types of gloves, gauntlets, wrist cuffs, and arm nets
Hand protection gears are used for protection against skin contact of hazardous material.
Activities that need hand protection — electric work, performing abrasive operations, hot/cold object handling, working around sharp and moving parts, working with hazardous chemical and biological agents, etc.
The hand protection gear includes many types of gloves and arm sleeves. The material and construction of them depend on the application. For instance, thin latex gloves can provide adequate safety while taking Covid 19 swab samples whereas thick insulated gloves are needed for safety against electrical hazards while working on a junction box.
Some common glove types and their applications -
a) Natural cotton or synthetic fiber — absorb light shock and protection against the cold wind
b) Heavy woollen — protection against snow
c) Disposable latex (nitrile or vinyl) — against the biological and light chemical hazard
d) Natural rubber — against hazardous chemicals in small volumes, electrical hazards
e) Heavy chemical resistant rubber (Butyl or Viton II rubber with silver shielding) — against toxic chemical spills and hazardous solvents
f) Insulated Latex — against mechanical pressure, direct and indirect heat exposure, handling cryogenic and hot objects
g) Wire mesh gloves — while handling live animals and for protection against cuts
3. Foot Protection — protection against mechanical hazard to feet
Foot protection equipment includes safety shoes and safety caps for shoes. Industrial safety shoes are made of synthetic rubber polymer with reinforced steel toe protection.
Safety shoes offer protection to foot by –
a) Slip resistance — grip on sole and rubber material to avoid slipping on a wet floor
b) Impact resistance — steel toe protection provides impact resistance of up to 500kg load impact.
c) Abrasion resistance — specially designed material of shoe: reinforced polymer for accidental abrasion resistance
d) Chemical resistance — shoe material offers chemical resistance against corrosive liquid spills
4. Eye and face protection — protection of face and eyes from direct energy, chemical, and mechanical projectiles.
Eye and face protection includes safety goggles, face shields, and visors. These PPEs are used to protect sensitive parts like the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin from external hazards.
General types of eye and face protections PPEs-
a) Safety goggles — against splashes of non-corrosive liquids and particulates, offer minimum safety and used for protection
b) Chemical splash goggles — used against splashes of hazardous chemicals
c) Radiation safety goggles — used against harmful radiations like laser and welding radiations
d) Impact safety goggles — they have an extra elastic anchor that prevents dislocation of goggles even after impact.
e) Face shields — they protect the entire face against chemical, mechanical, and direct energy hazards.
5. Full body protection — protection against mechanical injury, hazardous chemical, and direct energy hazards
The full-body PPEs include -
a) Full body protection suit — used for protection against chemical and biological hazards while working in labs or while
b) Life jacket — for protection against drowning
c) Biker’s suit — for protection against fall from motorcycle/road accident
d) Machine shop apron — protection while performing machine shop activities that generate metal chips and sparks
e) Body harness — protection against fall hazard while working on height
f) Surgical apron / clinical full-body suit — protection against infectious pathogens
g) HazMat suit — Hazardous Material suit, a full-body suit used against NBC hazards (Nuclear-Biological-Chemical) hazards
6. Respiratory protection — protection against breathing hazardous chemicals, dust, or pathogens.
These systems are usually the last line of defense, and thus are designed and selected with extreme caution.
General types of respiratory PPEs used across industry and healthcare sector -
a) Face masks — Surgical and non-surgical grade, used for general protection against droplets, aerosol, and dust present in the air.
Face masks are usually used in healthcare applications. They protect users from infectious droplets and other particles suspended in the air. Along with this, they curb the number of respiratory droplets that the user emits. General half-face face masks are also used for protection against pollution and dust in the air we breathe.
b) Face mask respirators — Full face or half-face respirators (FFR and HFR) used for advanced protection against Biological and chemical hazards
FFR and HFR have a unique face seal that completely isolates the mouth and nose of the user. Thus, respiration air exchange takes place only through the filtering media. High-risk individuals like industrial workers and doctors use these equipment. They protect them from aerial hazards like infectious droplets, aerosols, suspended particles, suspended chemical mist, etc.
7. Hearing Protection- protection against harsh noise
Hearing protection is necessary for areas where the average noise level exceeds 85 dBA. Earbuds used as a part of hearing protection are usually made of silicon rubber and can be of disposable or reusable type.
The world we live in is currently torn apart by this pandemic. The only thing protecting us from this disease is the protective equipment we use and the precautions we take. But they say the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It is up to us, the users, to select the proper equipment for our safety. Equipped with proper knowledge, we can ensure that the PPEs we use are not the weakest link in the safety chain around us.
For more information on interesting developments in the world of Personal Protective Equipment, stay tuned!
In the next blog, read about the History of Personal Protective Equipment, learn the 17th century about Plague doctors and their intricate suit, and much more!