Personal Protective Equipment and coronavirus

This page answers some of your questions about what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) your employer should be providing.

What protective equipment should I be getting from my employer?

Where a risk assessment shows a need for PPE, the equipment you will get depends on what you do, with whom and where you are working.

For many staff, this will consist of items such as gloves and aprons. Those more at risk may require masks and face/eye protection.

PPE issued in relation to COVID-19 should only be issued when the risk assessment shows it is necessary.

PPE will largely be concentrated on those caring for patients with symptoms or cleaning premises contaminated by droplets/body fluids that may contain the virus.

This will allow PPE  to be concentrated on those that require it. It is important that you are trained in its use.

Incorrect use of PPE may be putting yourselves, colleagues, family and friends at additional risk. The virus lives longer on plastics than ordinary clothes, so if not correctly used and disposed of items such as masks can be become vessels for spreading infection.

For other staff, unless the risk assessment shows otherwise, measures such as working from home, workplace adjustments and following government guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation are the most effective preventive measures.

All PPE issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be:

  • correctly fitted, taking into account any impairment or health condition, as well as body shape
  • located close to the point of use
  • stored  to  prevent  contamination  in  a  clean/dry  area  until  required  for  use  (expiry  dates must be adhered to)
  • single-use only (or sessional use, i.e. a period of time where a healthcare worker is undertaking duties in a specific care setting/exposure environment e.g. on a ward round)
  • changed immediately after each patient and/or following completion of a procedure or task
  • disposed of after use into the correct waste bin/stream.

Protective equipment for those caring for patients who have COVID-19 symptoms.

Many of you will be looking after patients and residents who are displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

The NHS and the UK’s Health Protection Authorities have agreed guidance on the protective equipment required for staff working in settings that may contain patients with COVID-19. These are contained in easy to read charts for:

1.      Healthcare workers working in a secondary care (such as NHS Hospitals) clinical context (PDF)

2.      Primary, outpatient, and community care (including residential and homecare settings) (PDF)

3.      Ambulance, paramedics, first responders and pharmacists (PDF)

It also contains this visual aid which you may find helpful.

Where there are problems with the supply of equipment your manager should contact the NHS Supplies dedicated employer hotline who should be able to resolve the situation.

Please note that Social Workers, Personal Carers/Assistants, Unpaid/informal carers, Palliative Care, Non-Residential Substance Misuse, Retirement and Private Healthcare facilities do not currently get their PPE from NHS Supplies.

Some of these organisations should have their own alternative suppliers. Contact your branch if you are not getting the PPE you require.

Personal Carers can ask their Local Authority Care Service or Clinical Commissioning Group for assistance. Again, contact your branch if you need help in doing this.

UNISON is continuing to argue for comprehensive provision covering all services.

Cleaning

If your job involves cleaning premises where there have been possible or confirmed cases, you should as a minimum be provided with disposable gloves and an apron.

Where a higher level of contamination may have been present, for example cleaning rooms that have been slept in by suspected sufferers of COVID-19, where there is visible contamination with body fluids), then surgical face masks and eye protection should be considered.

Removing and donning protective clothing and equipment

We all have a responsibility to wash our hands. However when you have been using any sort of protective equipment it is particularly important after you have been wearing it, and that you comply with any instruction provided by your employer.

It is also important comply with instructions on how to remove the equipment, keeping it away from your face and ensuring you do so as far away from colleagues, patients and residents so that you avoid the possibility of splashing.

However, there is also a responsibility for employers to ensure you are given the space and time to do all this safely and that it is considered part of your paid hours and duties. Hand hygiene and the safe use of equipment is important for both you and those you care for.

Staff uniforms/clothes

The appropriate use of personal equipment will protect staff uniform from contamination in most circumstances.

However where you are working in COVID-19 infected areas employers should consider, if not already provided, measures such as financial support (tax relief may be available otherwise), changing rooms, additional uniforms and laundry services (if not already provided).

Back to our general coronavirus advice

Or read our specific advice for health workers or social care workers.