The emergence of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). But even before the pandemic, some workers have been using PPE, particularly those in high-risk work environments.
PPE includes face masks, gloves, goggles, and respirators. Other items like earmuffs, boots, and coveralls are also considered PPE. These types of gear protect employees from abrasions, cuts, injuries due to falling from a certain height, and toxic agents, among others. Although useful, PPE should only serve as a short-term measure until better control strategies are in place. At times, protective equipment will be utilised in specific situations, such as during emergency workspace clean-ups.
The organisation must understand that PPE is not the ultimate safety solution. Rather, it is part of a complete strategy to control or maintain safety in the workplace at the very least. Personal protective equipment has limitations, especially when the PPE does not meet Australian standards.
PPE Selection Based on Australian Standards
Once the need for PPE in the workplace has been established, it’s time to select the correct type. Employers should match the PPE to the risk, which can be determined through a thorough hazard assessment. Comfort and accurate sizing for the wearers should be considered, as well. Finally, businesses need to comply with relevant Australian Standards.
Companies and professionals can use these standards as a guide to ensure workplace PPE can provide the required protection. PPE should always meet the minimum performance as described in these standards. These standards dictate the qualities of the protective equipment based on its type. Use this guide to understand the PPE requirements under the Australian Standards:
Reflective or high-visibility (hi-vis) clothing should meet the legislative requirements and standards. A common belief is that having a yellow or any brightly coloured shirt means you’re safe from harm – but it’s more than that. Reflective clothing should be compliant with the following standards:
- AS/NZ 4602:2011 is for high visibility (hi-vis) safety PPE. This standard mainly focuses on garments that use either retroreflective or fluorescent materials. Clothing can be classified as Class D (daytime use only), Class N (night-time use only), and Class D/N (day and night use). Reflective clothing is generally to help vehicle or moving machinery operators, ensuring other people in the same space are visible.
- AS/NZ 1906.4:2010 is the standard for retroreflective materials, mainly for workers who maintain road traffic control. It dictates the colour and requires that the gear encircles the upper torso properly. The front and back of the clothing should have a 0.2 square metre high-visibility colour. However, this measurement does not include silver tape, screenprints, and logos.
- AS/NZS 4399: Is for high-visibility personal equipment with UPF or ultraviolet protection. This type of PPE clothing is a significant investment for anyone working under the sun. It’s essential to check the UPF rating of the PPE, which should at least have 15 UPF.
Masks and Respirators
Because of COVID-19, employers and employees themselves have become more vigilant in the PPE they use. It is a well-recognised fact that masks and respirators play a vital role in lowering a person’s risk of acquiring the disease. Employees and businesses should consider the PPE standards when selecting the right type of mask, respirator, and other devices.
With numerous products available, it’s important to select based on the intended purpose of the PPE. It always depends on the environment or workplace where the PPE will be used, which immediately determines who will likely use the equipment.
Respirators, such as N95, N99, and N100, should have specific labelling. The Australian Government requires the device to conform to the standards that regulate air-purifying particulate respirators. Therefore, when a respirator is labelled N95, it means that the manufacturer has evidence that the product has gained endorsement from the National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In some cases where the approval is not granted, there should be performance test data proving that the N95 respirator meets the fundamental standards, which include:
- ISO 22609:2004 is the international standard for medical face masks. It covers PPE for infectious agents. The test method used is either by fixed volume or horizontal projection of synthetic blood.
- AS/NZS 4381:2015 is the standard for face masks used in healthcare and pertains to single-use or disposable masks.
- AS ISO 16900.3:2015 is the standard followed for respiratory protective devices. Assessment of approved products is done through a series of particle filter penetration tests.
- AS NZS 1716:2012 provides the guidelines for respiratory protective devices, specifically those labelled with P1, P2, and P3 filtration classes. This standard also covers respirators that are not used in the medical field.
- AS NZS 1715:2009 gives instructions in choosing, using, and maintaining respiratory protective equipment.
Other Standards for PPE
Medical and non-medical professionals use a variety of personal protective equipment, such as surgical gloves, visors, goggles, and hand sanitisers. Standards for these products include:
- ANSI/AAMI PB70:2003 provides guidelines in choosing apparel and drapes that can protect the wearer against liquid contaminants in high-risk areas, such as healthcare facilities.
- ASTM 1671 lists the resistance of materials in protective clothing against blood-borne pathogens. The materials underwent a rigorous testing method involving Phi-X174 Bacteriophage Penetration testing.
- ISO 22610 includes surgical drapes and gowns in a healthcare setting. It provides information for these medical devices used by the clinical staff, as well as patients.
- ISO 22612 describes clothing for protection against infectious agents, which passed the dry microbial penetration test.
- ISO 10282:2014 specifies which disposable sterile rubber surgical gloves should be used. The AS/NZS 4179:1997 follows this standard, although it may require updates.
- AS NZS 4011 is the standard for single-use medical examination gloves. Rubber latex and rubber solution gloves are specified in Part 1 of the standard.
- AS/NZS 1337.1:2010 guides eye and face protective equipment. All approved products underwent testing at the University of New South Wales’ Optics and Radiometry Laboratory (ORLAB).
- EN13727 is the standard followed for hand sanitisers. Products with this labelling have passed an in vitro test, which involves evaluation for reduction of transient organisms under comparative conditions.
Developing Australian Standards takes a long time due to the exhaustive process required. They are a result of the combined efforts of regulators and the industry. Experts and testing centres with appropriate testing equipment are important in gathering the needed data. From there, a minimum standard will be developed. Since the safety of real people (workers and the public) and businesses are on the line, measures should be retested and verified before publishing as an approved Australian Standard.
It’s always advised to follow these standards, whether you’re a business owner or employee. Choose PPE products with proper labelling and certification to ensure compliance. Labels include the testing type and the licence number of the authority that approved the accreditation.