As either the owner or an employee of a disaster restoration company, you’ve likely been concerned about Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) well before the Covid-19 craze. Yet, there is still a bit of misinformation surrounding PPE and its proper usage.
The use of PPE should be a priority for any company to keep the employees safe in a variety of hazardous situations that can crop up in this industry. If you are an employee for a disaster restoration company, it behooves you to think about the risks you are taking when you go into a job and to hold the company responsible for making sure the proper equipment is available, you know where to find it, have been trained to use it and that the company is keeping up with the maintenance. That includes being aware of any expiration dates or certification renewals.
Here are five misconceptions about PPE and what the facts are about them.
5 PPE Misconceptions
The Same Mask Can Be Used for Any Job
So you have an N-95, eh? That should protect you from everything, right? Nope.
Facts: Each job needs to be assessed in order to select the correct mask. Some jobs, such as a mold or fire remediation, may require a respirator. The highest level of protection means that your employer has a qualified company perform a fit test so that your respirator is tailored to you as an individual and that you are able to breathe properly. Factors that can also affect this is whether or not you have facial hair since it prohibits some masks to completely seal the passages.
Not all N-95 masks are the same. Some are manufactured for use as a deterrent against dust particles and some are for medical use against viruses. The ones for medical use can only be used once and need to be discarded daily. They are all ultimately regulated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/factsheets/respfact.html through other laboratories such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which is what you typically see on the the instructions for the masks. You should be sure to use the one that best fits the situation.
Also, you can bill for each N-95 used. Wait! Isn’t that a part of the line item WTRPPE? Yes! But each time you go back to monitor the job, are you wearing the N-95? If so, make sure to use the line item WTRPPEM to help recoup the cost of those masks.
You Don’t Need to Wear Gloves as long as You Wash or Sanitize Your Hands Regularly During a Job
Are you not wearing one of the cheapest and most effective ways to be safe? Eww, gross!
Facts: Perhaps you think that because you go to a job that has clean water as a source of the water damage, you’re just dealing with water so gloves are optional. Consider this: you are being exposed to the same blood borne pathogens and other infectious particles that you would encounter when cleaning up after a flood. So, if you have a nick or a small tear or a cut on your hands, you could be in danger of contracting a number of unsavory medical conditions. This is avoidable by wearing gloves and changing them if they become torn.
Like masks and respirators, the gloves you use should match the work that needs to be performed. The demo of materials will require a more durable glove than what you would wear for extraction. Or it may require you wear both a nitrile glove and a glove that is puncture resistant at the same time.
In order to know what gloves are required, per OSHA 1910.132, your company should have technicians trained on Job Hazard Assessments before even going to a job and have a Hazard Analysis completed by a competent or qualified person before prior to starting a project. Should…. That means federal law. The Hazard Assessment details the necessary PPE for known hazards and potential hazards onsite. Competent or qualified? Sounds like possible justification for supervisor hours to me.
If You’re Going to do Something Quickly, It’s Not Necessary to Wear PPE.
How long does it take for an accident to happen? Umm, rather quickly.
Facts: Even if you don’t plan on being at a job for a long time or have a specific task to accomplish, it’s still important to assess the potential hazards and the risks to your health and safety that you may be facing and wear PPE accordingly. In fact, it’s the law!
For instance, maybe you just need to cut out flooring sample to leave for the insurance adjuster. No matter how skilled you may be, your utility knife could slip and end up leaving you with a gash if you aren’t wearing PPE. Now, you’ve opened yourself up to infection, your production is decreased because you have to tend to the injury and you can’t even remember the last time you disinfected or changed your blade. All of this could happen in a short amount of time and is avoidable if just a little bit of thought is put into it from the beginning.
Or, maybe you’re an estimator scoping a home damaged by fire. There has been no demo or cleaning done yet. You’re just there to get your sketch and pictures. Is it really necessary to do a Hazard Assessment? Do you really have to wear PPE (PPE suit, respirator, etc)? Yes!!! Just because you aren’t doing the demo and hard labor, doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk on a job. The article https://www.randrmagonline.com/articles/88080-toxic-exposure-stucture-fire-restoration details just a few of the potential hazards you may be exposed to. It is enough to make you think back to all the times you went on those jobs in shorts and a t-shirt and cringe.
You Can Reuse a Tyvek Suit Multiple Times.
If you just wash it at the end of the day, everything should be fine, right?
Facts: As with most PPE, it is the most effective if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the equipment. In the case of Tyvek suits, it is recommended that the suit is single use only and is not meant to be reused. It should also be inspected before use to make sure it does not have barrier breaches like holes or tears. In addition, it is also recommended that the suit be discarded for a new one after 8 hours of continuous use.
Washing the suit it is not recommended because it can effect the integrity of the garment which puts the efficacy of it in question and therefore how protective it is.
During use, aside from perspiration on the inside of the garment, the outside is covered with chemicals or particles like microscopic mold spores or fecal matter that you could lead to other areas being contaminated by reuse.
Now how would you bill for this properly? First, keep accurate records of how many suits were used on each job. A technician can go through many suits in one day due to breaks, lunch, bathroom visits, tears, etc. Xactimate uses WTRPPE or WTRPPE+ depending on the type of suit being used. But what isn’t included in this line items is the labor to don and doff (put on or take off) the PPE. This can really add up over the course of a job. Time how long your techs take and accurately bill for this. For example, let’s say it takes 15 minutes to don and 15 minutes to doff a suit and respirator. Each tech used 4 suits in the day. You had 4 techs on site. That is 8 hours of labor that needs to be billed. At $50 an hour…. you may have missed $400! Over the course of 200 jobs… $80,000!!!! Lesson? Don’t forget to bill for the labor!
The More PPE You Wear, the More Protected You Will Be
If you just put on one of everything, that equals the maximum protection, doesn’t it?
Facts: Balance is the key to many things. If you wear too much PPE, it can threaten your health and safety just the same as wearing too little. A brief assessment of the job before you start is the best way to choose the correct amount of equipment for the hazards that exist on that one job.
If you are on call and have to go to an emergency restoration job after hours, the available PPE should be loaded in the work vehicle so that you are able to make the correct selections based on the specific hazards after arriving and surveying the damage.
There are many more common misconceptions about PPE. Knowing the facts about wearing PPE is the best way to keep you safe and healthy while you are providing a professional service to the community. It should be a mandatory part of your training as a disaster restoration technician and disaster restoration business owner.
Chloe Hudson is a freelance Content Creator based in Georgia. She worked for Champion Cleaning Systems, Inc. and has over 20 years of experience in the disaster restoration industry. She has certification in water, fire and mold restoration and has been involved in most aspects of the industry including being a technician, controlling content manipulation inventory, management, estimating, accounting and reception.