Restoration professionals rely on personal protective equipment (PPE) almost every single day to protect themselves from microbial issues such as mold, bacteria, and the spread of germs and other infectious diseases. But now, with the coronavirus pandemic, PPE is more important than ever.
Now, restorers, business owners, healthcare professionals, and many other institutions are seeing the risks from the failure to use PPE. PPE is the last line of defense between you and contaminates, and contractors should emphasize to their crew members and clients that helping to stop the transmission of COVID-19 is serious work, and does carry some risk. Therefore, all safety and health procedures must be followed without exceptions.
Considering the current hazards and dangers related to COVID-19, we are taking a closer look at PPE. PPE should be selected based on the results of an employer’s hazard assessment and the worker’s specific job duties. Employers should assess the hazards to which their workers may be exposed; evaluate the risk of exposure; and select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure. Here are some of the most essential forms of PPE and what they do to protect your workers during the pandemic.
Face Masks/Respirators/Eye Protection
The key feature of the coronavirus is respiratory symptoms, such as dry coughing, and it spreads primarily through saliva droplets or discharges from the nose or mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Therefore, respirators with minimum N95 filtration are essential – for the technicians and those around them. For most work conducted by restoration contractors related to mitigation of COVID-19, an N-95 filtering facepiece is minimum protection against possible exposure to the viral contaminants. A higher level of respiratory protection, if necessary, provides better protection where airborne contamination may be extensive due to the existing conditions or cleaning methods employed.
Any respiratory protection, including filtering facepieces such as an N-95 mask that is assigned to crew members who perform touchpoint cleaning or surface treatment, must comply with regulations established by authorities having jurisdiction, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and regulatory requirements (which include employee medical evaluation, fit testing, PPE training, and a written respiratory protection program). Filters should be placed into a sealable bag after each job and disposed of when they have reached their capacity. All personnel should be trained to properly don and remove their masks, and how to clean and maintain them.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the coronavirus can remain stable on surfaces for several hours. For example, for plastic and stainless steel, scientists found viable traces of COVID-19 two to three days after exposure. And because coronavirus is a virus (and thus is not exactly alive) you cannot necessarily kill the virus by simply disinfecting surfaces the way you would kill bacteria. Deep cleaning involves wiping all high touchpoint surfaces with hot water and cleaning agents, followed by the application of disinfectants, and followed by a second wiping of surfaces after an appropriate dwell time is needed.
We use our hands for everything, and because the virus can live without a host for quite some time, it is surprisingly easy to spread the virus via touch. Thus, safety gloves are another critical PPE because they prevent your hands from being exposed to the virus on surfaces, as well as provide protection during the ongoing use of cleaning agents and disinfectants. Standard specifications from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommend nitrile gloves, natural rubber gloves, and polychloroprene gloves. Higher minimum tensile strength is indicated, but it is also important to consider gloves with a level of cut resistance.
Granted, touching someone with infected gloves is no better than touching them with your bare hands, but gloves do protect the wearer from exposure – as long as you remove and dispose of them properly. It is important to immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used.
Clothing such as Tyvek suits may be required when specific exposure hazards are identified or expected at the worksite. In some instances, the protective suits may need to be impervious to contaminated floodwaters or another site-specific chemical, physical, or biological/biohazards such as the coronavirus. These disposable suits can include attached hoods and booties for contaminant control work. Suits help protect your clothes and skin from exposure to contaminants. It is important that the suits are properly taped at the cuffs to prevent contaminants from entering those openings. If a suit has become compromised, a worker should immediately notify a supervisor, and change it out for a new one.
Footwear should be appropriate for the job. For cleaning biohazards such as COVID-19, the CDC recommends disinfecting footwear. For this reason, rubber boots with safety toes would be recommended. To disinfect your shoes, sit down in a designated “clean chair.” Once you are sitting down, use EPA-registered disinfectant wipes to thoroughly disinfect all the surfaces of your boots, moving from top to bottom, and including the soles.
Hard hats or bump caps are important if there are overhead hazards. This can include personnel that is working overhead with tools or equipment. Taking appropriate precautions can prevent unnecessary injuries from falling objects and overhead hazards.
Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Neither surgery nor a hearing aid can help correct this type of hearing loss. Construction sites have many noisy operations and can be a significant source of noise exposure. OSHA recommends that workplace noise levels be kept below 85 decibels (dBA) as an eight-hour time-weighted average. As the noise level increases, it damages your hearing more quickly. OSHA also recommends that employers provide – and that workers use – hearing protective devices (earplugs, earmuffs) any time site exposures meet or exceed 85 dBA. Sound level meters and noise dosimeters can be used to determine and document noise levels.
Understanding PPE for the Coronavirus
We understand that this is a difficult time for many workers, especially for those providing COVID-19 clean-up services. We hope to be a safety resource during this period. Share this PPE guide with your workers as part of safety training. All suits, nitrile gloves, and other disposable PPE should be properly disposed of after each job. Remember, it’s everyone’s responsibility to be safe and wear the appropriate PPE for the job hazards that are present. Let’s all be safe out there! RIA