Healthcare workers are routinely exposed to biological fluids that can spread diseases from one host to another. The consequences of sharing fluids can range from distasteful to deadly, so it is important to stay vigilant and make sure you are protected in whatever role you are performing that day. In order to limit the transfer of blood and other bodily fluids, healthcare workers wear various kinds of protective clothing to protect both themselves and their patients from the microorganisms that can cause dangerous diseases, like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

Protective clothing for healthcare workers, for instance, ranges from surgical gowns and masks to full HazMat suits. Most people assume that they are protected as long as they are wearing fluid-resistant garments, but that may not necessarily be so. There are other factors you should consider to make sure you are getting the protection you need from your medical protective apparel.

1. What Type of Exposure Is Anticipated?

When choosing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the first thing to consider is how you expect to be exposed. Are you going to be exposed by direct touch? Is there a possibility you might be around splashes or sprays, or large enough volumes of blood that they could soak through your clothing and penetrate to your skin? What kind of isolation precautions is the patient on? Some patients may be isolated in a single room, while other potentially infectious patients may be placed in closer proximity to others. The facility will need to make decisions based on risks to other patients, too.

The CDC has recommended special precautions for dealing with more dangerous diseases like Ebola because those extra precautions will likely save the lives of healthcare workers. Not only are coveralls recommended to prevent any possibility of exposure, but there are also guidelines on wearing the equipment and taking it off and disposing of it properly.

2. What Is the Durability and Appropriateness of the Medical Protective Apparel for the Particular Task?

This can affect, for instance, whether the worker can perform the job in disposable, comfortable soft scrubs or if the task requires the tougher protection of a less permeable suit. Larger amounts of fluid will require equipment that can keep the worker protected and safe.

The materials are important because, in order to do their jobs, workers will need to be wearing protection that is both breathable and protective. There won’t be a chance to stop and change if there is a surprising amount of liquid during a procedure, so the protective apparel will need to be adequate for dealing with any known risks.

3. How Well Does the Personal Protective Equipment Fit?

Sometimes the equipment is right for the job, but it will still fail because the equipment does not fit the user. One worker can’t necessarily use the same equipment as a colleague uses. Something too small may not provide adequate coverage, while something too large may 

Not only that, workers who have been assigned the wrong size medical protective apparel may not be wearing it as often as they should. Equipment that doesn’t fit might be left behind or not worn properly.

4. Are the Workers Comfortable in the Medical Protective Apparel?

Unfortunately, tragedies can happen because workers are not using the protection consistently. They may do certain tasks without using the adequate amount of protection, or take it off improperly because it is such a relief to get out of it. 

Worker comfort becomes an ongoing safety concern when the equipment provided simply does not fit basic needs or comfort and breathability. Equipment needs to be the right size, breathable, and comfortable to ensure that workers will use the protection properly and consistently. Workers get very comfortable with routine tasks, leaving them more likely to forego the use of the protection that could save their lives. Sometimes workers are even uncomfortable because the chosen apparel simply looks ridiculous, and they feel embarrassed wearing it.

Other Considerations to Consider

When deciding on the best equipment for the job, even seemingly minor considerations are important if they are what keeps the equipment from working properly. Every workplace should have procedures for donning and taking off the protective equipment, and there should be ongoing training and reminders so that workers always remember what is currently considered best evidence-based practice.

Using dedicated or disposable protective equipment is necessary to ensure that it is properly stored, monitored, and maintained. Medical protective apparel should never leave the area where the pathogen is present for fear of infecting others, and caring for the protective apparel should be as routine as cleaning the rooms between patients.