Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a commonplace sight within the UK, but questions remain over its correct disposal.
With economic recovery on the agenda, more and more businesses are set to welcome back the customer, with July 4th becoming England’s own form of Independence Day.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced exceptional changes to every aspect of contemporary life, and the growing and encouraged use of PPE is amongst the most unprecedented.
From March’s lockdown to the imminent emergence of a sense of normality, PPE has become a symbol of what is the new, living with coronavirus normal.
PPE use in the UK has typically been confined to businesses at risk of injury, such as those in construction work, or in settings at risk of infection like hospitals.
It is classed as protective clothing, helmets, goggles or other garments or equipment used to protect the wearer’s body.
While those who have always wore masks and bibs now don additional protections, those who could never have predicted their profession would need it are becoming accustomed to the extra layer.
And, while each contact can be deemed a threat, its use can be expected to continue.
Who needs it?
While the Government stresses that health and social care settings are the most at risk due to their prolonged close contact with those who are symptomatic or particularly vulnerable to infection, the use of PPE has rocketed within many business sectors in the UK.
And, while guidance reinstates that good hygiene practices and social distancing are the most effective measures, the reopening of hairdressers and new one metre-plus rule calls for increased care.
Close contact services such as hairdressers, beauty salons and tattoo and photoshoot studios are encouraged that, due to the need to work in close proximity to their clients for the majority of the working day, wearing a protective clear visor is recommended.
The visor should cover the entire face and provides a barrier between the wearer and clients from respiratory droplets which can be caused through sneezing, coughing, and even speaking.
Both reusable and disposable visors are available, though the reusable option requires regular cleaning and sanitising.
Government guidelines also outline that there are some circumstances where a face mask may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure and, if an asymptomatic individual infected with the virus wears one, it can offer protection to those around them.
Although face masks and coverings are not deemed a necessity, employers should support both employees and clients who wish to wear one.
Despite the government’s reluctance to fully back PPE-use for businesses and the public, many have made the decision to implement PPE-use as a necessity or, at the least, a choice.
Hairdressing chain Toni and Guy have announced upon their reopening staff will be required to wear a protective mask and apron and clients will be provided with their own person protection pack including disposable towels, a mask and gown.
Meanwhile JD Whetherspoon’s have stated non-medical face-coverings, protective eyewear, visors and gloves will be made available to their staff on request, and PPE will be required for staff working in kitchens or other areas where there might be confined spaces.
How should it be disposed?
Government guidelines on working safely during coronavirus also offers instruction on the disposal of PPE within business sectors.
It is recommended single-use protective equipment is disposed of in a company’s usual waste.
The National Health Service labels waste as either infectious, offensive, or municipal, which is similar to household waste, and disposes of it accordingly.
Used PPE within the NHS usually falls within the infectious or offensive category and needs to be disposed to in a way that prevents the transmission of any disease.
And, while NHS staff are in close contact with those that are symptomatic, anxiety around disposing PPE in general waste can exist for business, especially in large amounts or if contamination is known to have taken place.
Generally, hazardous waste is defined as any waste product that has considerable or potential risks to public health or the environment.
With guidance at a minimum and apprehension still rife, it may be that businesses, much like the decision to use PPE or not, simply make up their own minds when it comes to its safe disposal.