What Is Personal Protective Equipment? How Does It Work In Healthcare Settings?


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Last updated on January 23rd, 2024 at 02:31 am

In any workplace, employees are subject to certain risks that may pose a threat to their health and safety. Whether it’s chemicals, bodily fluids, dust, or other hazardous materials, some tasks in any job may put workers at risk of infection or injury. In healthcare workplaces, this risk is especially high due to the patient population and the sensitive nature of procedures performed. In order to keep workers safe from these risks and protect them from possible injury or disease, personal protective equipment (PPE) is implemented as part of a comprehensive occupational health and safety management system. PPE acts as an additional layer of protection for workers while they are performing tasks that make them vulnerable to hazards.

What Is Personal Protective Equipment?

PPE is any equipment that is worn to protect workers from hazards. It can be used for either single use or for repeated use, depending on the type of protective equipment. PPE is essential for any task that may expose workers to biological or chemical hazards. A comprehensive approach to risk management for protection against infectious diseases requires the use of personal protective equipment.

The essential components of PPE include:

 – Clothing (lab coat, non-sterile gown, gloves).

– Protective eyewear.

 – Face masks.

– Footwear.

– Respirators.

Healthcare Settings Where PPE Is Used?

PPE is used in healthcare settings to protect workers from a wide range of contaminants, including infectious diseases, chemicals, and other hazards. PPE can help prevent injuries such as cuts, abrasions, electrocutions, and infections through contact with blood or bodily fluids. Workers in healthcare settings can be exposed to a variety of these hazards depending on their job. Some examples include: – Bloodborne pathogens. – Spills and contaminants. – Chemicals, gases, and vapors. – Fragile equipment.

Different Types Of PPE

PPE is categorized into different types based on the hazards it’s designed to protect against. While the types of PPE often overlap, it’s important for workers and employers to be aware of the specific hazards that may require specific PPE.

 – Barriers. Barriers, such as gloves and gowns, prevent direct contact with blood and bodily fluids.

– Chemicals and other substances. Respirators, goggles, face shields, and aprons are used to shield workers from chemicals, dust, and other hazards.

 – Biological hazards. Single-use protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns, masks, and face shields, can help prevent workers from contracting an infection.

– Noise hazards. Ear protection, such as earplugs, might be required to protect against noise hazards.

Eye and Face Protection PPE

Face masks and eye protection are used to shield workers from biological threats, such as blood or bodily fluids. Face masks can also be used to shield workers from chemical, radiological, and noise hazards. There are several types of eye and face protection available.

Some examples include:

  • Eye protection. Goggles or face shields can shield workers from cuts or other hazards.
  • Face shields. Face shields are used with eye protection and are beneficial for people who wear glasses.
  • Face shields and goggles.
  • Full face protection. Full face protection can include eye protection, a face shield, and a respirator.

Hand Protection PPE

Gloves are the most commonly used PPE in healthcare settings. They can be worn alone or as a barrier between workers’ hands and blood or bodily fluids. Gloves can be made from a variety of materials, including latex, nitrile, vinyl, rubber, and latex-free synthetic materials. It’s important to ensure that the gloves used in healthcare settings meet the minimum requirements for their intended use.

There are several types of gloves used in healthcare settings:

  • Barrier gloves. Barrier gloves are primarily used to protect workers from bloodborne pathogens. They can also protect against certain chemicals, depending on the level of protection offered by the glove.
  • Examination gloves. it can be used as a barrier gloves or as a non-sterile glove.
  • Reusable gloves are a type of non-sterile glove that can be either disposable or reusable.
  • Disposable gloves: Disposable gloves are single-use gloves made from latex, nitrile, vinyl, or other synthetic materials.

Body Protection PPE

The primary purpose of body protection PPE is to protect workers from bodily fluids and blood. However, it can also shield workers from other hazards, such as chemicals and noise.

Examples of body protection PPE include:

  • Aprons. Aprons are worn to protect workers from bodily fluids and blood. – Lab coats. Lab coats provide protection against bloodborne pathogens, chemicals, and dust.
  •  Full body suits. Full body suits are designed to protect workers from biohazardous materials.

Respiratory Protection PPE

Respiratory protection PPE shields workers from contaminants, such as dust, chemicals, fumes, vapors, and pathogens. Respirators are used in healthcare settings to prevent a variety of conditions, including allergic reactions, asthma, pulmonary edema, fever, and infections.

There are several types of respirators used in workplaces to protect workers:

  • Air-Purifying Respirators. Air-purifying respirators use filters to remove contaminants from air.
  • Powered Air-Purifying Respirators. Powered air-purifying respirators are similar to air-purifying respirators, but they have an attached pump to increase airflow.
  • Escape respirators. Escape respirators are used in disaster scenarios. – Chemical and Particulate Respirators. Chemical and particulate respirators are used to shield workers from certain chemicals or dust.

How Does PPE Work In Healthcare?

PPE provides an additional layer of protection by shielding workers from hazards. It should be used in combination with other safety equipment, such as safety goggles or face shields. It’s important that workers wearing PPE be trained in its use and have an understanding of the hazards that may require its use. This way, they can use PPE as a precautionary measure and be prepared in case of an emergency. In healthcare settings, it’s essential for workers to implement PPE to protect themselves against infectious diseases. Some of the most common diseases that can be transmitted through blood or bodily fluids include HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. While vaccines are available for some of these diseases, many healthcare workers are at risk of infection because of their job.

Health & Safety Risks That Require PPE Usage

Some hazards can only be prevented with PPE. Any time workers are exposed to biological hazards like blood or bodily fluids, or chemical hazards, they must use PPE as part of a comprehensive approach to occupational health and safety.

  •  Bloodborne pathogens. Bloodborne pathogens are bacteria that can be transmitted through blood. PPE, such as gloves and gowns, can help prevent transmission.
  • Chemicals and other hazardous materials. PPE, such as goggles and respirators, can protect workers from specific hazards.
  • Fragile equipment. PPE can be used to shield workers from accidental contact with sensitive equipment.


While personal protective equipment was originally developed as a response to unsafe conditions in the workplace, its role has expanded to include a wide range of health and safety issues. Health care workers often rely on PPE to protect themselves from bloodborne pathogens, chemicals, and other hazards associated with patient care. With increasing attention to workplace safety and more information about how PPE can be used, more healthcare settings are adopting PPE as part of their occupational health and safety management systems.

If you want to learn more about PPE, you can click here for more information.

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