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How to maintain PPE compliance amidst the COVID-19 outbreak

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

As the lockdown restrictions start to ease up in South Africa and more businesses start resuming, it’s important to not go back to ‘business as usual’ straight away. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, employers are required to follow strict personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance.


While many South Africans are still being urged to work from home when possible, some industries aren’t able to do so. For those returning to work, ensuring the safety of your employees should be top of mind.


While being PPE compliant has always been crucial in many industries, its importance has been highlighted even more during the COVID-19 outbreak. Workers within the construction and similar industries are required to wear PPE on all jobsites. Not only is it important to keep employees healthy, companies must stay in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws.


What does being PPE compliant mean?

PPE refers to the personal protective equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks. This includes items like safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, hazmat suits, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear, safety harnesses, ear plugs, ear defenders and respiratory protective equipment (RPE). 


It is the employer’s responsibility to provide the equipment for their employees, as well as ensure that they make use of the equipment correctly.


How do you maintain PPE compliance during this time?

The Department of Employment and Labour has advised all employers to “go back to basics" by conducting hazard identification and risk assessment to determine the level of risk exposure and communicate to all workers.


Examples of PPE to be used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks, gowns, aprons, coats, overalls, hair and shoe covers and respiratory protection, when appropriate. Also, make sure that there is an abundance of hand sanitiser and handwash soap available.


In South Africa, wearing a mask in public places is now mandatory. Because of this, they have become a highly sought-after product. While medical face masks are preserved for healthcare workers, fabric face masks provide a cost-effective alternative. Businesses need to source these and make sure that employees have a few masks on hand.


Fabric masks need to be washed, ironed and rotated consistently. And remember to teach all employees how to properly wear their masks. 


How do you properly wear a mask?

There’s not much point wearing a mask if you don’t do so correctly. Below are a few tips for making sure that you are making use of your mask in the right way:

  • Always use a freshly cleaned mask, and never share a mask with anyone.

  • Wash or sanitise your hands before putting on the mask and when removing. 

  • Ensure that it covers the area from the top of your nose to below your chin. And make sure to keep it in place during the full duration of wearing the mask. 

  • When you remove the mask, move your hands forward so you can fold the front over itself. Hold on the sides and place in a safe area for cleaning.

  • A fabric mask can be washed in hot water with soap or washed in a washing machine. Iron or sun dry. You can also drop the mask into boiled water and leave to cool to a temperature that allows you to wash the mask with soap or washing detergent.


Additional guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at workplaces

Our whole way of life has had to change amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did many businesses have to shut their doors during the lockdown, but we’ve all had to change the way that we interact with other people. Largely by socially distancing ourselves as much as possible. 


In order to continue trying our best to prevent the spread of the virus, these changes need to carry over into the workplace. To do this, employers need to implement the following best practices:


Regularly decontaminate and disinfect the environment

This involves disinfecting all surfaces, production lines, workstations, walls, floors and ceilings using specialized chemicals, after which the area is air dried. The decontamination team needs to be specially trained and wearing the necessary PPE.


Before your team goes back to work, it’s a good idea to do a deep decontamination clean of your premises. From there, do a risk analysis assessment to figure out where the most touched surfaces are and develop a cleaning schedule to maintain the required hygiene standards.


The following chemicals have been recommended to be used:


  • >70% IsoPropanol based hand sanitizer, Neat (Alcohol-based hand sanitizer)

  • Sodium Hypochlorite 0,1 – 0,5% (Chlorine-based sanitizer)

  • Hydrogen Peroxide >0,5% (Available as a blend of Hydrogen Peroxide and Peracetic acid-based sanitizer)

  • Benzalkonium Chloride 0,05% (QAC sanitizer)


Engineering controls 

This includes isolating employees from work-related hazards, installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates in the work environment and installing physical barriers such as face shields to provide ventilation.


Administrative controls 

Examples of these include: 

  • Encouraging sick workers to stay at home. 

  • Minimizing contact among workers, clients, and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications e.g. conference calls, Skype, etc. 

  • Minimising the number of workers on-site at any given time e.g. rotation or shift work.

  • Stopping all nonessential local and international travel.

  • Developing emergency communications plans, including a task team for answering workers' concerns and internet-based communications. If possible, providing workers with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviours (e.g. cough etiquette and care of PPE).


Safe work practices

This includes making sure that certain procedures are in place to reduce the duration, frequency and intensity of possible exposure to the virus. Employers should do everything that they can to promote personal hygiene. This can range from having no-touch refuse bins, hand soap, alcohol-based hand wipes, disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to clean their hands and regularly wipe down their workstations.


This is a completely new and scary time for all of us. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty and stress among employees going back to work. This means that employers have more pressure to make sure that they are providing a safe work environment. Empathic leadership is important – apart from the above guidelines, make sure to create an open and honest communication environment.

If your business is insured with Dialdirect Insurance, you can make use of Dialdirect’s Business Assist benefits. Our experts can assist with offering great business advice as well as source the best deals on PPE.