PPE Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Brian Haney, Vice President, Safety & Compliance
Our attention to PPE and employee safety began long before the coronavirus hit the U.S. but the pandemic certainly has changed the conversation! Today we must be even more vigilant about employee safety, both typical practices and new considerations during the outbreak.
General PPE Practices
- Always base your PPE requirements on the task, not the job title. In the MRF environment you may have employees whose job title is “sorter”, but they may do other tasks that require different PPE.
- Document your PPE choices with a hazard assessment specific to each task. Consider different types of exposures, what part of the body might be exposed, and hazards unique to each work area. What PPE is required to prevent things like lacerations and puncture hazards, things falling from overhead, chemical or dust exposure, and noise. How will you protect the employee’s hands, ears, eyes, head, and arms?
- When it comes to respiratory protection is it vital that you know what your employees are exposed to and at what levels. In most MRF locations, dust levels are below any OSHA PELs (Permissible Exposure Limits)., That means that any respiratory protection you offer should be on a voluntary basis. Be sure to review OSHA/state regulations to ensure compliance with voluntary protection requirements. If you are unsure of exposure levels, contact an industrial hygienist to perform an exposure survey.
- If you are providing dust masks (filtering face-piece respirator) on a voluntary basis, there is no need to provide N95 respirators. We urge you to help reserve N95 respirators for healthcare workers and first responders who must have that level of protection. Nuisance masks are generally acceptable for MRF work environments.
- If employees wish to wear cloth masks, surgical masks or even bandanna for their comfort, then these should be allowed.
- Remember, PPE is the last line of defense. Be sure to implement any engineering controls or administrative controls that you can first. These may include physical barriers, social distancing, or increased cleaning.