What PPE Do I Need When I Head Back to the Office? – Sports Medicine Weekly | Dr. Brian J. Cole
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Practice Policy Update regarding COVID-19

Published on: 05-Sep-2020

As Offices Start to Open Up Again, It Is Important to Learn How You Can Best Protect Yourself

In the past, personal protective equipment (PPE) was mainly used by employees who faced extra safety risks in the workplace, such as construction workers and surgeons. But since the start of the pandemic, office workers now need to take increased safety measures as they return to work. Before you head back to the office, make sure you educate yourself on the available PPE for office workers and safety practices you can follow to protect the health of both you and your coworkers.

Essential PPE for Office Workers

Before the start of the pandemic, you didn’t need to worry about taking extra safety precautions when entering the workplace. But as you head back to work, you will notice that your office looks a little different than how you left it. Seating arrangements may need to be spaced out. Meetings may need to be capped at a certain number of people. Cleaning services might stop by more often. As an employee, there are a number of measures you need to follow yourself to ensure the safety of everyone around you.

Face Masks

On June 10th, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released new guidelines on returning to the workplace after months of sheltering in place. For the first time ever, millions of Americans will have to wear face masks at work. Numerous businesses and cities have already enforced rules for wearing masks. Therefore, the practice won’t be entirely new to most employees. In addition to these mandates regarding face coverings, most offices will need to improve their air ventilation while also enforcing strict social distancing rules.

It is important to note that while cloth face masks aren’t technically classified as PPE, they will still likely be required by most workplaces. These cloth face coverings are different from the surgical masks and respirators that surgeons or construction workers wear as they are designed to prevent them from infections and toxic chemicals. Cloth face masks, on the other hand, are primarily designed to protect you from others. You will want to check with your employer to see whether or not they decide to provide you with face masks.

If you don’t have a face mask yet, don’t worry. There are a number of places where you can find a suitable mask. As you search for one, make sure you keep these criteria in mind:

  • Search for a cloth face covering that can protect both your mouth and your nose
  • You can try out a surgical mask if you find a cloth one uncomfortable
  • Make sure the mask contains multiple layers of fabric — dual-layer masks containing a heavy cotton layer and a lighter cotton or silk layer are extremely effective
  • There should be tied and earloops for the mask
  • The material should also be washable and should not change shape after cleaning
  • The mask should also offer enough breathing room without making you feel restricted

You will also need to clean your mask at least once a day. You can either wash it by hand with soap or throw it in the laundry with the rest of your clothes. Having several masks on hand for rotation can save you multiple washing trips.

Gloves

When worn properly, gloves can act as an effective barrier against the coronavirus. However, you shouldn’t let them give you a false sense of security. You will still need to avoid touching your face or standing too close to other employees. Learning how to properly remove your gloves and change them out will also be critical for ensuring their effectiveness and prevent them from posing an extra risk to you.

If you decide to wear gloves at work, you should aim for disposable gloves made of latex, plastic, or nitrile. Fabric gloves are also acceptable to use. However, you will need to wash them with soap and water whenever you re-use them. You should also avoid washing your hands with your gloves on or applying hand sanitizer while wearing them, as this can degrade their material. Whenever you remove your gloves, you need to make sure you do not touch their exterior, which can be contaminated.

Hand Sanitizer

Having a bottle of hand sanitizer at your desk will be essential when you return to work. However, you need to make sure the hand sanitizer you use is actually effective in protecting you against germs. Your hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. Nowadays, most retail stores and pharmacies are well-stocked in hand sanitizers, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding some bottles to bring to work with you. In addition to your hand sanitizer, you should also remember to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating and after you sneeze or blow your nose.

Tips for Staying Safe at the Office

PPE for office workers is only one part of the puzzle of keeping you safe at work

Wearing PPE can help protect you and your co-workers against SARS-CoV-2. However, they can also become useless if you don’t use them properly. Wearing your mask under your chin or below your nose, for instance, can make it much less effective and make you vulnerable to the virus. Standing too close to other people can also put you at risk.

As you head back to work, it is critical for you to follow these safety tips:

  • Avoid gathering in large groups
  • Try to stay at least six feet apart from others
  • Stay at home if you start experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19
  • Consider increasing air circulation by opening doors and windows
  • Keep your workspace tidy by cleaning it with soap and disinfecting it on a regular basis
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth even if you are wearing gloves

FAQ on Wearing PPE in the Office

Experts answer your questions on wearing PPE at work

As people start to return to the office, they often have a lot of questions on their minds. After all, the world has already started to operate a little differently from when they left their desks back in March. That’s why we’re reviewing some of our frequently asked questions on effectively protecting yourself at work.

How does a face mask prevent COVID-19 from spreading?

Wearing face masks primary protects the people around you more than you as an individual. Essentially, face masks block the respiratory droplets released from your mouth from traveling far away from your face. That’s why, the more people who wear masks around you, the safer you will be at work. Keeping a six-foot distance will also improve the effectiveness of your masks.

How do you properly wear a face mask?

Wearing a mask is easy. Whenever you place your mask on your face or remove it, you should wash or sanitize your hands. Then, simply place it over both your mouth and your nose. If the mask features ear loops, you can quickly fit those loops around your ears. If not, make sure you tie it securely behind your head. While you wear your mask, you should avoid touching it. If you end up accidentally touching it, you should wash or sanitize your hands. Once you take off the mask, you will need to wash your hands again.

Will masks limit my oxygen intake?

Many people worry over whether wearing a mask will block oxygen or carbon dioxide. Thankfully, the fibers used for cloth masks and surgical masks are not dense enough to block the exchange of these gasses. These masks are also not tight enough to block air from coming in around the sides.

Can I take breaks from wearing my mask?

According to experts, it is okay to take an occasional break from wearing your mask. However, you should only do it when there is no one around you. When you take it off, you want to remove it by the ear loops. This will prevent you from accidentally touching any infectious droplets on your mask. If possible, you should wait until you are outside to take a rest from it if you find yourself growing uncomfortable with it.

What type of mask is the most effective?

In general, the best mask you can wear is one that is comfortable for you. Some people prefer surgical masks as they tend to be lighter and more comfortable to wear than cloth masks. However, you should avoid wearing N95 masks with valves. When you exhale, unfiltered air and droplets can escape into the air.

While offices and businesses are starting to open up again, this does not mean that the virus has been eradicated. In order to protect you and your co-workers, it is imperative that you follow social distancing guidelines and wear the necessary PPE to help prevent cases of COVID-19 from spreading.


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