5 Types of PPE and How Your Staff is Misusing Them

Many injuries can be caused if a worker slips or trips on a spill because of footwear without a sole with enough grip, or if chemicals drip onto the foot of someone wearing open-toed footwear, or if a heavy item falls onto the foot of someone wearing flimsy, instead of reinforced, footwear.

Your staff isn’t wearing it right. Frankly, if they aren’t wearing the proper footwear now, it’s your fault, because it’s your responsibility to make sure your employees are safe. That means you should be proactive in educating them on proper footwear and enforcing a workplace policy that requires a proper uniform, with consequences for noncompliance.

“When [workers] fall, they say it was an accident,” says Marge McFarlane, PhD, CHSP, CHFM, HEM, MEP, CHEP, principal of Superior Performance, LLC, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “No, they participate by hurrying and wearing shoes that may not support them when they are walking downstairs.”

Footwear needs to always be appropriate for an employee’s job, but open-toed shoes or shoes with improper treads are not allowed. Shoes with proper ankle and heel support and non-skid strips on the bottom are always the best way to go.

Respiratory protection  

This is such a big concern that OSHA recently updated its rules for respiratory protection of workers in healthcare. Especially with the appearance of more severe respiratory illnesses such as MERS along with the re-emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of once-forgotten diseases such as TB, it’s more important than ever to make sure your employees are wearing the proper protection. In fact, OSHA in 2015 teamed up with NIOSH to create a “respiratory toolkit” to help protect healthcare workers.

“Appropriate respiratory protection is a vital line of defense against airborne hazards workers might face on the job,” says NIOSH Director John Howard, MD. “This toolkit is an important resource to help healthcare employers ensure their workers are out of harm’s way when it comes to respiratory hazards.”

The toolkit covers respirator use, existing public health guidance on respirator use during exposure to infectious diseases, hazard assessment, the development of a respiratory protection program, and additional resources and references on respiratory protection programs.

Although geared more toward hospitals, the toolkit contains lots of information that applies to healthcare facilities as a whole, and violations of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard, which requires healthcare employers to establish and maintain a respiratory protection program in workplaces where workers may be exposed to respiratory hazards, are among the highest number of citations that OSHA hands out to healthcare facilities each year. You can also find the entire downloadable booklet at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3767.pdf.

Your staff isn’t wearing it right. In most cases, your clinic’s front desk workers and nurses are among the first to see a patient with a respiratory illness, and if they need a hospital stay they will likely go to you first unless it’s an acute situation. This means your workers are the ones who will be most at risk if they don’t wear the proper PPE. In some cases, the flimsy paper masks found in physician’s offices won’t be enough, especially in a TB situation where a properly fitted N95 respirator mask is more appropriate, or in an isolation situation where treatment in a negative pressure room is needed.