PPE – Your Questions Answered

There’s so many questions relating to PPE, coronavirus and returning to work, so we’ve answered some of the most common questions.

Most common PPE Questions Answered

Why is PPE important?

Making the workplace safe includes providing instructions, procedures, training and supervision to encourage people to work safely and responsibly.

Even where engineering controls and safe systems of work have been applied, some hazards might remain. These include injuries to:

  • the lungs, eg from breathing in contaminated air
  • the head and feet, eg from falling materials
  • the eyes, eg from flying particles or splashes of corrosive liquids
  • the skin, eg from contact with corrosive materials
  • the body, eg from extremes of heat or cold

PPE is needed in these cases to reduce the risk.

What PPE should I use?

Firstly you need to consider whether you will be having direct interaction with others and the purpose of your work.

As a minimum we would suggest:
Antibacterial hand gel that is over 60%

Disposable masks
Face shields

Or one of our newly developed ‘Return to work kits‘ that takes most of the guesswork out of returning to work with adequate protection.

We're running low on PPE, where can I get advice?

Public health bodies have issued guidance on based on World Health Organization advice on what to do with there’s a shortage of PPE.

Do I need to cover my face in public places?

In England and Scotland, it is compulsory to wear a face covering when using public transport.

These are not the same as those used in workplaces where PPE is required, and can include cloth masks, scarfs and bandanna.

In addition, all visitors and outpatients to NHS Hospitals (in England) will be expected to wear face coverings at all times during their visit.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, it is recommended, but not compulsory to wear face coverings on public transport.

In all parts of the United Kingdom wearing face coverings is recommended in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is not possible.

Workplace Questions

What protective equipment should I be getting from my employer?

The content of this page is based on the best available expert advice from the NHS and the health protection/health authorities.

Generally where a risk assessment shows the need for PPE, the equipment you get depends on your role and where you are working.

In most cases, this should generally include:
Alcohol Hand Sanitiser Gel

Those that face more risk should require face/eye protection.

All NHS are required to wear surgical face masks while working in any hospital setting.

What if my employer provides inadequate PPE?

Raise this with your line manager, head of depart or infection control department highlighting the need for adequate protection.

Alternatively, contact your local Council who may direct you further.

What PPE am I entitled to?

Depending on which sector you work in, health care workers have a very different set of guidelines they need to follow to stay safe, as opposed to say a car mechanic.

For sector-specific advice see:
Education Workers
Healthcare Workers
Social care workers

What if my workplace isnt safe?

UNISON believes that our members should never be in a situation where they might endanger themselves and others in the course of doing jobs.

Putting you in that situation is potentially a breach of health and safety law and may spread coronavirus to people in high-risk groups.

As a last resort, when faced with a dangerous working environment which cannot reasonably be averted, every employee has the right not to suffer detriment if they leave, or refuse to attend their place of work (or take other appropriate steps) in circumstances where they reasonably believe there is a risk of being exposed to serious and imminent danger (section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996).

Although this is very much a right of last resort, the context of a situation will be key on whether refusing to return to work or any other steps are appropriate.

This means that an employee cannot automatically refuse a reasonable instruction to return to work without a good reason.

Using PPE

Can PPE be shared or re-used?

In most cases, PPE should be assigned to a specific individual.
Generally sharing PPE equipment is ill-advised as it increases the chances of infections.

Some equipment is designed to be used in ‘shared environment’, such as larger pump antibacterial hand gels

What's the difference between facemasks?

1. Cloth Mask
Generally better than no face coverings, they offer minimal protection.

2. Facemask/Clinical Mask
Will filter small particles, used by frontline healthcare workers.

3. N95 facemask
Filters up to 95% of particles when tightly fitted.

4. Full Faceshield
Allows easier communication, can be washed with disinfectant.

Government Advice

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