Can a PPE be shared, reused, and altered?
Is Sharing, Reusing & Altering PPE Allowed?
Human beings have no doubt polluted the planet. Now, efforts are being made to fight this man-made catastrophe. One simple yet effective technique used is 4Rs. These 4Rs stand for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink. Just when the world was fighting man-made disasters like global warming & improper waste management, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. The global scenario went into turmoil. No one expected a pandemic to such an extent, and the situation became quite chaotic.
The Dire Necessity of PPE
The only focus during the pandemic was to save as many lives as possible. Global health organizations directed the use of PPE for the safety of the people as they restricted the transmission of the pathogen. This led to extensive use of PPE such as respirators on a daily account. The demand for PPE during the pandemic skyrocketed. According to an estimation by the United Nations demand for surgical masks was accounted for roughly 2.4 billion in the year 2020.
Curious souls can find more information about the situation of the dire necessity of medical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are there Problems With PPE?
During the pandemic, very few raised a concern about the problems PPE could pose, especially related to their proper handling & disposal. As most of this PPE is classified under medical waste, they amounted to tons of waste being generated during this period. Several questions arose, ‘Can we reuse PPE? Can we share PPE with our co-workers? Can we effectively alter the size of the PPE? & Can we recycle PPE?’ In this article, we will be addressing these questions. So, let’s begin without any further ado.
Can a PPE be shared?
Foremost, one must understand that PPE is intended to protect the individual from the hazard. In most cases to ensure safety, PPE is disposable & single-use. Most of the global health organizations like the WHO, NIOSH, FDA, and others have made it clear that the PPE should not be shared.
PPE is only for personal use and should be disposed of after use or wear & tear (by the wearer). In most cases, employers assign PPE to their employees. This PPE is tailor-made or chosen according to the individual’s size. As a part of PPE training, the information regarding sharing PPE is also discussed. In certain environments & conditions sharing of PPE is strictly prohibited. For example, sharing PPE in hospitals & other healthcare institutions is highly discouraged.
The two main reasons for not sharing PPE are: 1) Instead of protecting the individual from hazards, they may transmit or cause the hazard to the person with whom PPE is shared. This defeats the purpose of PPE use. 2) The extent of protection provided by the PPE decreases when shared with other persons. The chances of exposure to the hazards increase, which doesn’t justify the use of PPE.
So, it can be concluded that sharing most of the PPE is not permitted. Of course, there can be a few exceptions. These exceptions are safety goggles, hard hats, and safety harnesses. Even if these PPE can be shared, it is recommended that this PPE must be disinfected before sharing.
Does disinfection of PPE affect its effectiveness? Find out more about the results of the disinfection of PPE.
Note: In certain special cases & a few exceptions, PPE can be shared even without disinfection. For example, if a worker requires a safety harness urgently, then sharing it can be permitted. This is only allowed if the worker’s personal safety harness cannot be procured in the required duration.
Can a PPE be reused?
Reuse of PPE is allowed in some cases. It is highly discouraged to reuse disposable types of PPE. Disposable type of PPE is a single-use PPE that must be discarded immediately after a single-use. While there are other types of PPE that can be reused after proper disinfection. The type of hazard also influences whether the PPE can be reused or not. If the hazard is caused due to pathogens & is transmissible, then the PPE cannot be reused.
For example, disposable single-use PPE like surgical masks, PPE aprons & gowns, surgical gloves, disposable respirators, and a few others cannot be reused in any circumstance. While non-disposable multiple-use PPE like helmets, safety goggles, hard hats, safety harnesses, safety shoes, earmuffs, safety vests, bodysuits, and other such PPE can be reused multiple times until wear & tear of the PPE. Reuse of PPE is highly beneficial for the environment as it reduces the manufacturing of the PPE. This results in the reduction of global demand for PPE.
Reuse of PPE is also beneficial for small ventures & businesses which can save money as buying PPE is often a costly affair. The money required to buy PPE can instead be invested in making the workplace much safer & for free from accidents. It can be concluded that the reuse of PPE is only permitted if the equipment complies with the safety standards required (as directed by OSHO).
1) The number of times PPE can be reused depends upon various factors. A few essential factors are manufacturer, the material of construction, design, safety, handling, and storage of the PPE. You can find more information from our blog on the maintenance & storage of PPE.
2) Disposable types of PPE should not be washed or disinfected for reuse. These types of PPE are only for single-use.
Can a PPE be altered?
Altering or making any kind of change to the fittings or size of PPE is highly discouraged. In a few exceptional cases, even if PPE is allowed to be altered, it must be ensured that the manufacturers of the PPE have allowed it (or go through the instructions of the manufacturer). Also, it must be checked whether the alteration is required. Other viable options like the replacement of PPE with the required size can also be considered.
Note: Any type of alteration of PPE must still comply with the safety standards (as directed by OSHO).
Can a PPE be recycled?
If you are wondering whether it is possible or not, then check out our blog on recycling PPE for more information.
A general conclusion can be derived that sharing, reusing & altering PPE must be avoided whenever possible. It is true that sharing, reusing & altering PPE can help save money as well as the environment, but must be avoided for safety & hygiene purposes. While there are relaxations in a few special cases & exceptions. In either case, PPE must always comply with the safety standards laid down by the governing safety body (like OSHO).