The COVID-19 global pandemic continues to have a deep impact on the operation of medical facilities across the country. In Alabama, the spread of the virus has changed how health-related practices conduct business, with many of them shutting down. Some are just now beginning to re-open, most with limited hours. While they are providing much needed services to the community, the re-openings have added to the demand for personal protective equipment, or PPE, for all staff members.
We recently posted guidelines from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and information from Alabama’s public health website and OSHA’s page devoted to the virus. As promised, we’re now updating our coverage to include guidance on the proper use and disposal of PPE.
Types of PPE
As defined by OSHA, PPE is “specialized clothing or equipment worn by an employee for protection against infectious materials.” It can include:
- Glasses and goggles
- Masks and face shields
- Head and shoe covers
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has provided guideline for things like proper mask use and disposal when providing medical services, but defers to CDC and OSHA regulations on the handling of PPE by medical practice staff.
OSHA PPE Requirements
OSHA’s current guidelines for PPE vary and depend on the type of work being performed as well as the exposure risk. As defined by the CDC, risk factors for worker exposure to COVID-19 include:
- Close, within six feet, contact with an infected patient, co-worker, customer, and/or general member of the public or other source of the virus.
- Social conditions including in high population density areas where there is frequent person-to-person contact in the workplace or community.
- Travel to highly affected areas and/or gathering of large groups.
The agency advises that medical providers should adapt infection control strategies based on a thorough hazard assessment and use appropriate measures such as safe work practices and PPE to prevent worker exposure. Some standards also require medical facilities to train workers on the elements of infection prevention, including PPE. An overview of practice guidelines includes having workers:
- Frequently wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water are not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and/or mouth, including with gloved hands.
- Immediately wash their hands after touching any piece of PPE.
There are also specific steps employees should take with respect to identifying and isolating suspected cases as well as follow-up procedures.
Along with the appropriate use of PPE, the CDC advises that, to prevent infection, facilities should use a combination of administrative rules and engineering controls, environmental hygiene, and proper work practices. Because the transmissibility of COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces and objects is still not completely understood, facilities and practices should carefully evaluate which works areas may have been contaminated and whether they need to decontaminate them in response.
The CDC considers PPE to be one of the least effective exposure controls because it involves a high level of worker involvement and relies on proper fit and consistent, correct use of the equipment. Because many major U.S. distributors have reported PPE shortages, the agency suggests finding alternative employee safety equipment including air-purifying respirators. It has also provided a list of suggested strategies for optimizing current PPE supply levels.
What We Recommend
As always, our top priority is making sure our customers, their employees, and the people they serve stay as protected as possible. As medical practices and facilities slowly re-open to serve the general public, we still believe the best approach is to be particularly vigilant when it comes to COVID-19 contamination.
At TriHaz, we continue to take extra sanitizing measures, require regular glove changes, and have increased staff training. As the CDC still classifies regulated medical waste as a Category B infectious substance, your facility and staff should manage Covid-19 infected waste as it would other RMW.
We also recommend checking with trusted, credible sources like your local health department as well as the resources mentioned at the top of this article to stay abreast of the latest news and developments on COVID-19. You can also read more on COVID-19 and how proper waste management practices can help minimize risk on our website. And, of course, we’re here to answer any questions you may have about PPE in particular or general COVID-19 safety and compliance rules.
Finally, to ensure everyone’s health and safety, we ask that you keep us informed by letting us know if you’ve had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at your facility. We wish everyone continued good health.