Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a critical component of workplace health and safety. Failing to don the appropriate protective gear can result in small nicks and abrasions if you’re lucky, and serious or potentially life-threatening accidents like chemical burns or severe eye injuries if you’re not.
In many cases, PPE needs to be tough and durable to protect the wearer. In other situations, the protective clothing may get so dirty or damaged that it will be rendered useless. Still others call for fresh, clean protective clothing each time. The latter two situations are where disposable PPE comes into play.
What Is Disposable Protective Clothing?
Disposable PPE refers to protective clothing that is intended for one-time use by a single individual. It is not to be shared and not to be laundered for multiple uses, as washing disposable clothing can alter its protective or barrier capabilities, rendering it ineffective.
A variety of disposable protective clothing options exist. Common ones include:
- Boot or shoe covers
- Hair covers
- Ear plugs
- Face masks
Suitable Applications for Disposable PPE
Not every application requires disposable clothing, and not every application is right for it. But here are a few common scenarios when single-use PPE is perfect.
Tasks that require clean, fresh PPE every time – Some situations require that clothing be brand new each time to ensure it hasn’t been contaminated. This is especially true in many food, medical and lab atmospheres. Since disposable clothing is only worn once, you can be certain that it is clean and free of any residue.
Situations where clothing gets extremely dirty or damaged – For work in which clothing gets excessively soiled or damaged, disposable PPE is an excellent choice. It simply doesn’t make sense to purchase and re-purchase expensive protective clothing on a regular basis because it gets too dirty too quickly. With disposable options, workers can get as messy as they need to without worrying about whether they will be able to use their gear the following day.
For visitors – Laundering PPE can be costly, and while the cost might be worth it for your everyday employees, that isn’t always the case for visitors. If the workplace has occasional visitors who must don PPE before entering, having disposable options available is an affordable alternative.
Specific industries – Industries that commonly require disposable protective clothing include:
- Motor repair
- Chemical and asbestos removal
- Food preparation
Things to Consider When Choosing Your Gear
Disposable protective clothing isn’t always up to the same quality standards as its reusable counterparts. And since the main goal of PPE is to protect the wearer, quality is one of the main things you’ll want to consider before deciding what – if any – disposable PPE is right for your workers. Start by asking these questions:
- What type of work will be done using this PPE?
- What hazards are present in the work area?
- What areas of the body do the hazards pose a risk to?
- What level of strength is necessary for the material to meet safety standards?
- Is the work environment hygiene-critical?
- Is there a chance that the clothing will come into contact with bodily fluids?
- Does the material need to be chemical or flame-resistant?
- Must the material protect against extreme heat or cold?
Once you’ve determined that disposable protective clothing is the best choice, you’ll want to ensure you find quality products that will stand up to the type of use they’ll endure. They may only be single-use, but you want to ensure they last as long as the wearer requires.
You may also want to consider fit. In some jobs fit is extremely important, and in others not so much. Ill-fitting PPE can be a serious hazard in some job functions. If this is the case, you must choose PPE that comes in various sizes (rather than, for example, a one-size-fits-all coverall) or can be fitted for each individual.
Disposable Clothing Safety Standards
Disposable protective clothing must meet the same safety criteria as reusable PPE. That is, it must be appropriate to protect workers against the known hazards. Workers must be trained in the proper use and care of PPE, and all worn or damaged PPE must be replaced.
With respect to disposable items, gear that has come into contact with chemicals, flames, or other such substances should be replaced to ensure its effectiveness.
Employees using disposable PPE also need to undergo the same training as those using reusable PPE. This must cover:
- When PPE is necessary
- What type of PPE is necessary
- How to properly put on, take off, adjust, and wear PPE
- PPE limitations
- Proper disposal of PPE
PPE is a broad category, and disposable protective clothing is just one of the many options available. Remember that disposable PPE isn’t right for all circumstances, but those who use it must be aware of its limitations and understand how to properly dispose of it after each use.