Personal protective equipment is equipment that is designed to prevent the transmission of pathogens by direct contact. Personal protective equipment includes eye shields, face shields, foot/shoe covers, gloves, goggles, gowns, head covers, and respirators.
Employers are required to provide employees with the PPE they need to protect themselves and provide training on how to use PPE (OSHA, 2016), and employees are expected to know how and when to use PPE (CDC, 2020b).
Choose the PPE to use by assessing a situation and determining what you may be exposed to and how you may be exposed. Healthcare facilities must train employees on the proper use of PPE, but healthcare professionals must use their judgment to decide what PPE they need to use.
Example: The OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard states:
“Masks, Eye Protection, and Face Shields. Masks in combination with eye protection devices, such as goggles or glasses with solid side shields, or chin-length face shields, shall be worn whenever splashes, spray, spatter, or droplets of blood or other potentially infectious materials may be generated and eye, nose, or mouth contamination can be reasonably anticipated." (OSHA, 2016).
Personal protective equipment must be donned and removed correctly to protect patients and healthcare workers.
Use these steps for donning PPE:
- Identify the PPE that you will need.
- Wash your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Put on the isolation gown.
- Put on the respirator or face mask.
- Put on goggles or a face shield.
- Put on the gloves (CDC, 2020b).
Use these steps for removing PPE:
- Take off the gloves. The outside of the gloves is contaminated; therefore, you should not touch the outside of the gloves with your bare hands. Put the gloves in the proper receptacle, i.e., a trash receptacle for contaminated materials.
- Remove the gown. The outside of the gown is contaminated, and when you are taking it off, you should not touch the outside of the gown with your bare hands. Put the gown in the proper receptacle.
- Wash your hands.
- Take off the goggles or the face shield; do not touch the outside surfaces of the face shield or the goggles.
- Remove the face mask or respirator without touching the outside surfaces.
- If you were wearing a face mask or a respirator, wash your hands (CDC, 2020b).
Note: Handwashing and the proper use of gloves are effective infection control techniques. However, healthcare workers often do not follow handwashing recommendations (Moore et al., 2021), and gloves can tear and be penetrated (Zhang et al., 2021). The CDC's stance on the use of gloves and handwashing is: "The use of gloves does not eliminate the need for hand hygiene. Likewise, the use of hand hygiene does not eliminate the need for gloves." (CDC, 2002). Gloves should be changed when they are damaged, when you move from a contaminated body site to a clean body site, and when the gloves are bloody, dirty, or contaminated by body fluids (CDC, 2019b)