Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and COVID-19

By April 18, 2020COVID-19

I am all about implementing controls to protect myself and teams against exposures, however when that level of control, in this case Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is in limited supply we need to adapt and prioritize accordingly.


I have seen in many scenarios, not just during this pandemic, that wearers of PPE are given a false sense of security. If I wear my PPE and walk into a hazardous situation, I will be protected, right? Well, no. There are always other controls and factors that need to be managed, in addition to wearing PPE. PPE alone will not protect you especially if it is used incorrectly, it can do more damage than good.


I shuddered earlier this month when I observed several people wearing gloves in the airport, they would touch a cart, shortly after retrieving their bags and then their face! Yep, you read that right all whilst wearing the same pair of gloves. The gloves had given the wearer a sense of added protection, and it was clear that there was no understanding by the wearer that the gloves were actually a surface as well meaning  they are a source of transfer and contamination. If that same person washed their hands before touching the cart, sanitized their hands before and after collecting their bag and didn’t touch their face, the scenario would have been a far more protective approach.


Mask wearing incorrectly is another aspect that has been observed time and time again these last few months. If masks are not fitted and donned correctly, creating seals around the nose and mouth they are deemed ineffective and are a waste of an essential resource.  In fact, the wearer should not have anything that restricts the seal for the mask to act as a barrier as designed. Examples of things that prevent a proper seal are wearing make-up, moisturizers or having facial hair.


Health experts have said over and over that healthy people should not buy and wear masks, since they won’t do much to protect them, and purchasing the masks will deplete the supply for people who do need them – like sick patients and healthcare workers. Surgical facemasks can help shield against large germ-containing droplets, like spit, that infect people close by, but aren’t much use if worn by healthy people. Isolating and distancing is a far more effective control.


Educating on the use of PPE is essential. PPE is designed to fit for purpose and task. No PPE can provide 100% protection; it is typically a last resort in the control hierarchy. Not all PPE, in particular masks, are created equally. Administrative and Behavioral controls are by all means more effective, as well as isolation from the source of the exposures.


This is an example of the control hierarchy. This can be adapted to the current global scenario.


 It goes without saying that the best control of defense according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best precautions for the public are the standard, everyday ways to avoid all germs: wash your hands frequently, try not to touch your face, and avoid close contact with sick people

The scientific research shows that regular hand washing improves health outcomes and is the best and most effective way to reduce the spread of infections.  Read our tips here:


To reiterate this message, the below snippet is from Nurse Nancy.



The gloves and masks you’re wearing to the grocery store? Not going to help you. In fact, likely to do more harm. Here’s why:

  1. As soon as you touch anything with your gloves they’re contaminated. Seriously. Grocery cart? That’s on your gloves. Touch your gloves to a can of soup? Transfer of germs. Wear those gloves into the car? Now on your steering wheel.
  2. Typically disposable gloves are just that; wear them for one task and remove. Then wash. Put on a new pair. I go through dozens in a shift. Just wash, wash, wash. Over and over.



The professional guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the use of face masks has been updated. Until April 2nd, the CDC had not recommended face masks be worn by individuals other than those in the health care settings. 


On April 3rd, the CDC revised their advice and now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain and present a risk for significant community-based transmission. This change of advice is based on new understanding regarding transmission of the virus confirming that it can be spread from infected individuals with no symptoms who are in close proximity to others.


Please note that the fabric cloth covering is to prevent the wearer who may be non-symptomatic from spreading the virus. The fabric cloth can limit the spread of coronavirus, whether it is via respiratory droplets or airborne particles.

The face covering does not offer additional protection to the wearer. 

Given the current mask shortages impacting medical professionals, it is still essential that the general public leave the supply of medical grade surgical masks and N95 medical masks for front-line healthcare workers who are most at risk.

It is at the discretion of anyone to use a face covering, especially where it is difficult to maintain the required 2 meters (6 feet) of physical distancing, but it is strongly recommended.

This is a common sense recommendation to add to other measures like staying at home, physical distancing, hand washing and the avoidance of face touching, which are by far the most effective ways to protect society.


The weave and thickness of the fabric used in the face cover needs to be tight enough to prevent the expulsion of particles whilst not obstructing normal breathing. Remember the face cloth is not a medical mask and therefore will not impact supply to health care workers. 


It is important to note that the use of cloth face covers does introduce additional risks including:

  • Providing people with a false sense of security resulting in a lax practice of critical controls such as physical distancing. Face covering users should exercise the same caution as if they were not wearing one. 
  • A tendency for people to touch their face more often to adjust their face covering.
  • The potential for distraction or even obstruction of line of sight and/or head movement.
  • A risk of infection, if the face covering is not adequately or frequently washed. To minimize any risk of infection, a minimum of two cloth face coverings should be used to ensure they are washed and dried (in heat >65 F degrees, 19 degree Celsius) in between wears. Recommendations are to secure the used mask in a plastic bag until they properly laundered, you will need to wash it in warm soapy water after each outing. 




As Nurse Nancy said: “Just stay home. Open your windows. Clean out the fridge. Watch some Netflix. It’s a staycation. Just do it. So many people are praising healthcare workers for going in and doing our jobs. It’s nice, but the best thank you we can get is to commit to stopping the spread. You might say when this is all over, it wasn’t as bad as we said it would be. That’s because what we advised worked. And if you want to complain about it being overkill, go for it. I’ll happily keep my mouth shut while you shame us for inconveniencing you.  Be kind. Please and thank you.”



Charelle Harkins, BSc Environmental Management




Charelle is an environmental scientist that is deeply dedicated to making a difference and a positive impact on our planet.  She is a determined and an outstanding professional, with operation and green-fields project experience. She has worked on four continents specializing in capacity building, data management and verification, environmental & safety.  Charelle holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management accompanied by formal Lead Internal Auditor and Trainer & Assessor qualifications. She is an expert in Environmental Management Systems, delivering standardization of practices, field-based quality control and compliance, incorporating risk analysis and sustainability reporting.   Her professional objective is to support business practices that are sustainable, responsible and ethical demonstrated through their environmental, social and governance investments.



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