The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work and necessitated the use of precautions and strategies to prevent the virus’ transmission. Companies and workplaces are stepping up to the challenge and evaluating how they approach workplace safety, which is a bright side to a really difficult and dangerous situation.
Healthcare workers who are going to be around a lot of suspected or confirmed COVID cases should wear plenty of PPE that protects from pathogens. Disposable N95 respirators should be worn at all times and disposed of properly to avoid contamination or infection. A face shield provides extra protection for the face, including the eyes: other eye protection like goggles can prevent virus-contaminated droplets from coughing, sneezing, or vomiting from getting in the eyes. Gowns, shoe covers, and other full body coverings are used and disposed of between patients and prevent contaminated droplets from spreading. Gloves need to be used for treatment as well as clean-up, and hand soaps, sanitizers, and other disinfectant and cleaning products need to be used on highly trafficked areas.
People who don’t work in healthcare don’t necessarily need the same level of protection and should help preserve supplies for healthcare workers. Reusable cloth facemasks can be worn in public to cut down on virus transmission and block out larger virus-filled droplets from other people. Gloves should be used for cleaning and disinfecting, and make sure to practice proper hand hygiene, whether that means washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or using hand sanitizer.
If you’re working in healthcare and therefore in very close contact with potentially COVID-positive patients, you should be wearing a properly fitting N95 respirator along with other PPE designed for medical use (and maybe even layered underneath a looser surgical mask). For preventing community transmission in non-healthcare settings and day-to-day life, a cloth mask or disposable face mask is helpful protection.
When getting a mask for community use, choose one made from multiple layers of breathable, tightly woven material. You can choose one with a metal nose wire to help improve the fit and keep glasses from fogging up. Note that while surgical and cloth masks often fit loosely, ones with ties rather than ear loops are adjustable. Whatever kind of mask you’re using, it should completely cover your mouth, chin, and nose and fit snugly on your face without any gaps. Don’t wear masks with exhalation valves or vents because while they keep your face cool, they allow your breath to escape the mask when you exhale which makes them ineffective for preventing transmission.
Masks shouldn’t be worn by children under the age of two, anyone with a disability that cannot safely wear a mask, or if you work a job where a mask would create more of a risk. Make sure that breathing in the mask isn’t difficult and you can still see while wearing it.
An N95 mask or respirator is a face mask worn to protect the lungs from on-the-job hazards. The N stands for non-oil-resistant and the 95 refers to its ability to filter out at least 95% of particles 0.3 microns in size or larger. Unlike surgical or cloth masks, they’re tight-fitting and require fit testing to ensure a proper seal without leakage. While many are manufactured for industrial jobs where dust or small particles are a hazard, some are intended for use in a healthcare setting. They’re designed to protect patients as well as providers from pathogens and other hazards from contaminated bodily fluids.
A face mask does not provide the same level of protection that the more specialized N95 will, but when used as part of a more complete strategy that includes physical distancing, keeping rooms ventilated, avoiding crowds, and proper hand hygiene, it can help cut down on transmission. It does this by protecting the surrounding area from a patient’s cough or sneeze and specifically the aerosol bodily fluids that would otherwise end up in the air to be breathed in by others. Make sure that your mask properly covers your nose, mouth, and chin. Additionally, be sure that it doesn’t have exhalation valves and that you wash your hands before you put it on and after removing it.
We’ve been in the safety business for over 70 years, and we’ve seen a lot of changes in that time. From advances in science and technology to world events that impact jobs across an array of industries, we’ve witnessed how workplaces grow, adapt, and innovate their way around new problems and come to new solutions that help them stay in business in a time of flux, the COVID-19 pandemic being one of them.