What Is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

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PPE equipment, which stands for personal protective equipment, can refer to supplies used by healthcare, construction, laboratory, or industrial workers. Most people asking what PPE gear is are doing so in response to the COVID-19 and the PPE shortage affecting hospitals, healthcare workers, and other essential workers.

But healthcare is far from the only industry that requires personal protective equipment items: educators, cleaning services, construction workers, chemists, firemen, and so many more may also use forms of PPE equipment.

Here's what you need to know about what PPE gear is, what kinds exist, and where you might find it.

Wholesale PPE: Casco Shield™ Available for Wholesale and Individual Order

The Casco Shield™ is our American-made solution to the world's PPE equipment shortage. Made in our ISO 13485 certified facility in Maine, the Casco Shield™ features a medical polypropylene headband, silicone strap, and comes with 2 clear visors per headset.

PPE Stands for Personal Protective Equipment

This term is largely used to refer to clothing and other gear used to protect individuals from hazardous conditions. For example, a construction worker may wear a hard hat, special gloves, and steel-toed boots. It’s also “personal,” meaning that it isn’t designed to be shared among different people. This may be especially important for healthcare workers and others dealing with infectious diseases such as coronavirus (COVID-19).

PPE Gear for Healthcare Workers

People who require PPE include (but not limited to):

  1. Healthcare workers who may be at risk for COVID-19 infection 
  2. Those at high risk of infection
  3. Those who have tested positive for COVID-19

Healthcare workers may include people in doctors' offices, laboratories, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and more. In these cases, personal protective equipment may serve to create a barrier between a person’s eyes, nose, mouth, and skin and external contaminants such as viruses and bacteria (If you want to learn the difference, check out our article on what antimicrobial means).

But it isn’t only for the healthcare workers who come in close contact with those potentially infected with an illness such as COVID-19 or Ebola: PPE gear may also assist individuals at high risk of infection, including (but not limited to) the immunocompromised and those undergoing surgery.

ppe equipmen

Pictured: Casco Shield

PPE Meaning in Review:

  • PPE stands for personal protective equipment.
  • It is a technical term used to describe specific gear for healthcare workers and at-risk individuals.
  • It may be relevant to reopening businesses during COVID-19.
  • Typically, it creates a divide between a person’s mouth, eyes, nose, and skin, and external bacteria and viruses.
  • PPE equipment is typically held to certain quality standards (more on that later), which does not mean that a homemade face mask, for example, is PPE.

Wondering how long do germs live? The short answer is: it depends. 

PPE Safety Is Industry-Specific

Personal protective equipment is at term used in a variety of industries (construction, public safety, science, healthcare), meaning that standards differ. Furthermore, there are different types of PPE within industries, which may be subject to unique levels of regulatory oversight.

For example, OSHA, the U.S. Department of Labor, reviews equipment for construction, shipyard, marine, longshoring, and general industry. Any supplies that fall under OSHA jurisdiction must meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, according to their website.

They also specify that, in these industries cases, PPE means gear that is designed to protect against work-related contact with mechanical, electrical, chemical, and other dangers.

FDA and PPE Gear

In the case of COVID-19, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) may be responsible for regulatory oversight concerning different types of supplies because it may be classified as a medical device. Keep in mind that there are different levels of medical devices, which may require unique manufacturer certifications, testing, and more.

The federal government has said that PPE should be worn by medical professionals and not the general public. If you have any questions or want up-to-date information on the status of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, please see the CDC website and consult your physician.

Fun Fact: The N95 mask is designed to obstruct a minimum of 95% of test particles (see this comparative study published in the American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal). This type of PPE equipment is subject to FDA regulations, as are other important types of PPE for coronavirus mitigation, including ventilators, masks (as opposed to face coverings), testing, and many other critical supplies.

Types of Personal Protective Equipment

Keep in mind that workplace gear can be divided into many subcategories depending on the industry and its application. For example, gloves alone may be categorized into six types. Anyone looking to buy PPE equipment should consult with their physician and seek knowledge of their industry and workplace.

In short, most people divide into five examples of PPE. These include:

  1. Respiratory protection
  2. Face and eye protection
  3. Hand protection
  4. Hearing protection
  5. Body protection

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of respiratory and face and eye protection, though hand protection and body protection may also be relevant depending on the situation and its relevant procedures.

personal protective equipment example

Pictured: A CDC (Center for Disease Control) Employee.

22 PPE Gear Examples

Let's go over a few examples of respiratory and face and eye protection. As always, the following is neither medical nor legal advice and is designed solely for educational purposes.

Airborne Precautions PPE (Respiratory) Examples:

  1. Surgical masks
  2. N-95 respirators
  3. Respirator cartridges
  4. Half-mask Respirators
  5. Full-face respirators

Face masks are typically divided based on the level of protection against droplet precautions or airborne contaminants. For levels beyond a minimum performance mask, this type of PPE gear must be subject to specific and stringent testing for a manufacturer to many any type of claim. This is called ASTM testing.

Types of PPE Face Masks Based on ASTM Testing

Per ASTM testing, there are 5 levels of mask protection:

  1. ASTM Level 3
  2. ASTM Level 2
  3. ASTM Level 1
  4. Low Performance
  5. Minimum performance

Typically, the higher the ASTM level, the higher the fluid resistance and filtration efficiency. 

What Type of PPE for Droplet Precautions?

For specific advice, please see a physician as there are specific regulations to follow for droplet precautions in cases of high contagions, such as COVID-19, influenza, and Ebola. Personal protective equipment may include a gown, gloves, type of face mask depending on the interaction and the advice of your medical professional, and PPE gear for the patient as well as cleaning and isolation procedures.

For up-to-date information please see the CDC website and speak with your physician.

Face and Eye Examples

Again, it is important to note that a variety of industries require eye and face protection, including laboratories, construction, and healthcare. Examples of this type of gear may include:

  1. Safety glasses (general)
  2. Laser safety glasses
  3. Chemical or infectious droplet goggles
  4. Impact goggles
  5. Different types of face shields

The Casco Shield is a comfortable, adjustable shield made in our facility in Maine. It features a comfortable and adjustable headband and strap design and easy-change visors. It has not been tested per any OSHA or FDA testing. For more information and to read our disclaimer, please see the Casco Shield page.

Hand Protection Personal Protective Equipment Examples

Gloves or protection of some sort may be required for a variety of industries and held to unique industry-specific standards. Here are a few examples.

  1. Wire mesh gloves
  2. Insulated gloves
  3. Heavy chemical resistant gloves
  4. Light-heavy chemical resistant gloves
  5. Light chemical resistant gloves
  6. Light latex, nitrile or vinyl gloves (of which there are several subsets depending on the level of biological hazard).

PPE Meaning for Hearing Protection

Another great example of personal protective equipment typically outside of the healthcare community, hearing protection may include:

  1. Hearing band
  2. Reusable earplugs
  3. Disposable earplugs

Body Protection Examples for a Variety of Industries

A variety of industries require some sort of body protection. This may include anything from a vest to a hazmat suit. Here are a few other examples:

  1. Plastics, rubber or rubberized fabrics, or neoprene (typically for work with hazardous chemicals)
  2. Flame resistant materials
  3. Cotton or Cotton blend materials

PPE Gear, Safety and Definition, Explained

In the era of COVID-19, knowing what personal protective equipment is, who should be wearing it, and what standards it is held to has become increasingly important. It has also become clear that relying on imports for this PPE items may create shortages in times of need.

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