In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have had to reassess and restructure many of our daily practices. Many things we never thought twice about doing suddenly bring into question whether they may put us at risk. Sharing PPE (personal protection equipment) has been a common practice we’ve done for years, especially when it comes to more costly items, like arc flash kits for electrical maintenance and aluminized clothing for molten metal protection. As concerns continue to grow over the spread of coronavirus, so do our daily inquiries about sanitizing PPE. We have turned to the CDC and arc flash industry expert Hugh Hoagland for guidance.
According the CDC’s recommendations, thoroughly washing with soap and warm water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For disinfecting clothing and other soft surfaces, the CDC recommends following the manufacturer’s laundering instructions on the label and a good old fashion washing with the warmest water appropriate for the garment. This applies to PPE and other safety clothing too: product care information for all National Safety Apparel products can be found on the information labels sewn into your garment, as well as the product care section of our website. Hard surfaces like faceshields and hard hats can also be washed with warm water and mild soap. Visit the CDC website for more information on disinfecting items.
While washing is effective, this suggestion may not be practical for on-the-job sanitation, leaving many people wondering if they can use disinfecting sprays or wipes to clean their arc flash PPE. It is not recommended. Many disinfecting products are intended for hard surfaces and require a certain level of saturation and wait time that cannot be achieved with porous surfaces like fabrics. Additionally, many of the chemicals in these products are flammable and any residue left on the product could negatively impact the garment’s ability to protect the wearer.
With washing being the only viable sanitization option, it is important now more than ever to stop the sharing of PPE in order to keep workers safe and healthy. Industry expert Hugh Hoagland stated in his recent blog “Although many companies have implemented shared electrical PPE programs over the years, especially for operators of electrical switch gear, the COVID-19 crisis is putting a spotlight on why this is a bad practice that needs to change – forever!” Why is sharing PPE such a commonly held practice? Sharing equipment is often used to mitigate cost. PPE can be a big upfront investment, but it’s important to look at the long-term value that it brings. Arc Flash Kits are commonly shared garments, as this PPE is often used only for tasks that require a certain level of protection. This light use results in a long wear life if stored and cared for properly. As such, the long lifecycle of an arc flash kit spreads the upfront cost across several years, making it a valuable long-term investment.
It's also important to weigh the cost of not protecting workers with the appropriate PPE. Surveys have shown that workers are more likely to wear their PPE when they are provided garments that they feel comfortable in. A communal suit presents the wearer with what they may see as justification for not wearing the PPE they need. They may not feel comfortable wearing a shared garment or the suit may not be easily found because the person that used it before them misplaced it. Workers that don’t wear their PPE are at risk of serious injury should there be a hazardous event, and the cost a company incurs from just one injury will far outweigh the cost of providing individuals with their own PPE. There are the direct costs of hospitalization, workers’ compensation, and OSHA fines, and the indirect costs of a serious workplace injury such as lost productivity, increased training, decreased moral, and damage to the company’s reputation. When taking these financial and injury risks into account the best thing a company can do is provide each worker the essential protective equipment they need to work safely and productively. Giving each worker their own arc flash suit or aluminized jacket eliminates the excuse of not wearing PPE and gives them ownership over their own protection.
Hugh Hoagland said it best, “In summary, personal protective equipment is personal for a reason. One of the many recommendations to prevent the spread of potential infections, including COVID-19, is to “keep personal items personal”. Check out Hugh’s full blog Is it OK to Share Arc Flash and Electrical PPE for more information.