PPE Suits, Masks, & More: A Guide for Beginners

Kevin GeickCrime Scene Cleanup, Disease Decontamination, Infectious Disease Cleanup

Essential workers wearing PPE

With the ever-present possibility of the re-emergence of outbreak-prone diseases, such as Ebola, yellow fever, and cholera, as well as newer pathogens, such as COVID-19, readily available PPE is a must.

Many and varied biohazards may result from exposure to organisms, or substances produced by organisms, that threaten human health.

As with other hazards, the priority for biohazard control starts with the elimination of the hazard. This is where crime scene and disease cleanup experts come in.

The conditions they encounter are often dangerous, as their job involves removing and decontaminating contaminated surfaces.

The approach to any potentially dangerous environment, including one with biohazards, must be made with a plan that includes the use of PPE suits, masks, gloves, and more.

What is PPE?

PPE, an abbreviation for Personal Protective Equipment, is a term used for protective clothing or gear designed to diminish employee exposure to physical, chemical, or biological hazards.

The purpose of PPE is to create a physical barrier between an individual and a hazard.

For instance, crime scene and disease cleanup experts rely on PPE to protect themselves, from head to toe, when decontaminating contaminated surfaces.

Selecting the right PPE to minimize exposure to biohazards is essential to the cleaners’ safety. If you’re a crime scene or disease cleanup expert, you’ll need several PPE basic items, which are classified under four main categories hereunder:

1. PPE for Face Protection

There’s no shortage of hazardous situations, chemicals, and materials that can fly around the job site. And since infectious diseases spread primarily through inhalation, eye, nose, and mouth protection becomes such an essential part of your PPE setup.

The following are the basic PPE items for eye and face protection:

· General Safety Glasses

Protective glassesThese are all-purpose eyeglasses that you can use both onsite and offsite. Safety glasses are the minimum level of eye protection that you must wear when conducting cleanup jobs.

· Safety Goggles

GogglesThey offer protection to the eyes, sockets, and the facial area that surrounds the eyes. Compared to safety glasses, safety goggles are closer fitting and most commonly have side shields that protect eyes from splashes.

They also have some sort of barrier (like rubber or foam) that closes the gap between the goggles and your skin.

· Face Masks

Protective face maskThis is a mask that offers protection to the nose and mouth. There are different types of face masks, including surgical masks and N95 respirators.

· Face Shields

Face shieldThis is a protective covering designed to protect the entire face, including eyes, nose, and mouth.

They come with a shield that provides an optically clear barrier to penetration of substances (liquid or solid) for infection control.

· Cartridge Respirators

Cartridge respiratorThis is a more sophisticated face mask that fits tightly over the nose and mouth. It comes with a cartridge containing a special material that filters chemical fumes from the air so that you can breathe cleaner air.

For maximum protection, the above PPE items could be used in combination. Additionally, earplugs and muffs can be worn to provide protection for the ears, while a bouffant cap, balaclava, or bump can provide head protection.

2. PPE for Hand and Arm Protection

For crime scene experts, wearing PPE that protects the hands is a must. It not only protects them from touching hazardous substances, but it also prevents them from cross-contamination.

The following are the basic PPE items for hand and arm protection:

· Gloves

Pair of glovesA pair of gloves is a critical PPE item for hand protection as they prevent your hands from being exposed to the virus on surfaces.

There are different types of gloves available today, including light latex gloves, nitrile gloves, vinyl gloves, mesh gloves, and insulated gloves. Gloves can also be light chemical gloves or heavy chemical gloves.

· Protective Sleeves

Crime scene and disease cleanup experts may come in contact with various substances or flying debris that can injure their wrists and arms while on the job.

Protective arm sleeves provide additional protection to the wrists and arms so that the experts can work without having to worry about getting hurt.

· PPE for Body Protection

Protecting your body is also crucial when handling biohazards. Everyday clothes can’t protect cleanup experts from workplace hazards.

As such, they need PPE that offers adequate body protection on the job.

The PPE items for body protection include:

· Suits (Safety Coverall or Gown)

PPE SuitThis is a one-piece, loose-fitting protective suit that provides the whole body (except for the face, hands, and feet) with protection against outside contaminants. Coveralls, also referred to full-body suits, are generally worn over the top of personal clothing.

Since they offer full-body protection, they are effective at protecting cleanup experts against a number of hazards of biological, thermal, mechanical, and chemical nature.

· Apron

An apron is another crucial PPE item for crime scene and disease cleanup experts. It’s a necessary item in areas with splash potential of hazardous liquids.

· Cooling Vest

Working in hot environments with a full-body suit can be a challenge. Since you can’t easily remove the coverall while on the job, it helps to wear a cooling vest.

It protects you from overheating and helps to keep you cool as you accomplish your tasks.

3. PPE for Foot Protection

Boot coversJust like all other body parts, your feet need solid protection when treading on hazardous environments.

PPE items for foot protection include:

  • Safety shoes
  • Rubber boots

Foot protection may also include simple disposable shoe covers to reduce the spread of contamination. It’s important to evaluate the potential hazards and choose foot protection accordingly.

Four Levels of PPE

It is important to note that different situations call for different levels of PPE. For instance, Ebola cleanups require much more serious PPE as it is a higher level biohazard.

The following are the four levels of PPE and the situations in which they are used:

  • Level A: For this category, the highest level of respiratory, eyes, and skin protection is required. The PPE for Level A protection includes complete encapsulated vapor and chemical protective PPE suits, air respirators, face masks, outer and inner chemical-resistant gloves, and disposable protective boots.
  • Level B: This category requires the highest level of respiratory protection is required, and when minimal eye and skin protection are needed. The PPE for this level includes breathing apparatus, chemical-resistant gloves, face shield, hooded clothing, and chemical-resistant boots.
  • Level C: This level requires PPE for use in environments with concentrated airborne components. The PPE required includes an entire face respirator, chemical-resistant gloves and boots, mask, and hard hat.
  • Level D: This is a low-hazard level that requires minimum protection. The PPE required for this level include gloves, face shields, coveralls, and chemical-resistant boots.

Final Thoughts

According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people die from infectious diseases annually. Failure to invest adequately in the control of common infectious diseases has been cited as one of the reasons as to how infectious diseases can quickly get out of hand.

Investing in the right PPE suits, masks, gloves, etc. for disease cleanup is one of the ways to mitigate the risk of many endemic diseases for those on the front lines.