Thinking of personal protective equipment (PPE) we get an idea of wearing a hard hat, safety boots, and perhaps a reflective vest. These are all forms of PPE, but not all PPE is donned as easily, certain PPE requires extensive training and customisation for its proper use. Before discussing PPE, it is important to know how our stalwart frontline fighters in a pandemic went from wearing weird garments and funny bird masks to sterilized and fit test approved protection gear or PPE kit.
541 AD marks the beginning of the first human pandemic with the outbreak of black plague or ‘Justinianic plague’ which lasted until 700 AD. And since then, there had been numerous significant pandemics that had hit the human race and people have over time came up with different protective elements to safeguard themselves from infections or viruses that can be transmitted.
But the initial use of the proper PPE kit can be well documented during World War I as a respiratory protection against chemical warfare. The use of chemical gases shifted the dynamics of the war, and the use of respirators allowed troops to nullify the toxic and harmful effects of the gas. The first respirator was invented in the sixteenth century by Leonardo da Vinci, to protect the wearer from inhaling harmful chemicals from toxic weapons made of powder. As technology evolved, respirators became less expensive to purchase, easier to use, more comfortable, and more durable with the invention of the single use respirator, the N95 in 1972.
Aside from respirators, other personal protection developed for combat also evolved into what has become PPE for everyday use, such as protective coveralls. Earlier, warriors wore protective armours to protect them from war injuries, and now along with the industrial revolution, commercial development, and the evolution of technology, it has changed the landscape of protective armour. Now, modern industry has translated armour into protective workwear, such as disposable coveralls to prevent contamination from biological, chemical and physical hazards. And with evolution and the strive for higher standards of safety, the use of PPE will increase and continue, to ensure greater protection to the workers.
These protective coveralls are made of high density polyethylene fibres which prevent migration of contaminants onto workers. These suits can often be extremely pliable, allowing workers to manoeuvre freely with minimum restrictions. Certain disposable suits are also equipped with elasticated wrists and ankles to ensure no cross-contamination. In addition, those suits constructed from a polyethylene material are water and moisture impermeable, meaning no contaminants can penetrate through the suit onto the worker. These suits are designed to be disposable, and as a result, each time a worker doffs their suit it must be disposed of as contaminated waste.
Importance of PPE kit during COVID-19
Ever since the COVID-19 global pandemic broke out, there have been many devices that came into light to keep people safe and protected from the COVID-19 virus. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits have gained a lot of popularity and importance since then. The PPE Kit is playing a very significant role in minimizing the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus from one person to another. There are possibilities that our surroundings may be infected from the virus and a PPE kit protects our body parts from getting exposed to the contaminated surrounding. Its full-proof design provides complete protection and prevents any infection from passing to or from the body. Consisting of elements including coverall, face shield, gloves, headcover, mask, and footwear, it ensures complete safety from head to toe. Each part of the protective gear is specifically designed to cover and safeguard a body part. As the advancing variants of this virus are also capable of entering through the eyes, thus the PPE kit also includes a PPE Goggles, which protects the mucous membranes in the eyes from blood and virus droplets.
As medical professionals and the frontline workers are the ones in close contact with the infected patients, it becomes even more crucial that they use a PPE kit to cover them from head to toe to ensure their safety.
Overall, there is evidence that the use of PPE does reduce rates of disease transmission and protects staff. It is equally important that staff use it appropriately to preserve what may be limited stocks to ensure there is sufficient supply for necessary use throughout the epidemic surge. There is, however, a concern related to the disposal of PPE kits owing to its material i.e. non-woven polypropylene. But with proper disposal methods, recycling and waste management this too can be tackled.
Visual by: Aslam Siddique
Article by Neelchandra Roy, The North-Eastern Chronicle