How to Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Rescuer Safety

hospital worker putting on face mask
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Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used by healthcare providers to protect themselves from injury or infection during an emergency.

PPE is part of the Centers for Disease Control's official Standard Precautions (also known as Universal Precautions) healthcare providers must take when they risk exposure to:

  • Blood
  • Bodily fluids (except sweat)
  • Broken skin
  • Mucous membranes

Lay rescuers should follow their professional counterparts by stocking first aid kits with PPE they can use when assisting victims in an emergency.

The following items are standard issue for medical workers:

Hand Cleaners

The best way to prevent the spread of disease is to wash hands with soap and warm water after every contact with a medical patient. Unfortunately, soap and water are not always available. Make sure your medical supplies or first aid kit include an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Gloves

Exam gloves come in three common types: latex, nitrile, and vinyl. Many people develop allergies to the protein found in latex. Nitrile and vinyl are much more hypoallergenic.

Per World Health Organization guidelines, using gloves doesn't mean you can ignore hand hygiene. Contamination can happen via glove defects or while removing soiled gloves. Whenever possible, wash your hands before and after wearing gloves.

CPR Masks

Many lay rescuers don't want to perform the rescue breathing part of CPR without a mask. One of the most common CPR masks is a flat plastic barrier that lays across the victim's mouth and nose, with a hole in the middle to allow air through. These types are simple to use, portable, and easily fit in a first aid kit.

Face Masks

Blood or other potentially infectious material sprayed or splashed in a rescuer's face can enter the mouth or nose and spread an infection. Use a face mask whenever blood or other body fluids may become airborne.

Eye Protection

Plastic glasses or goggles are the most convenient type of eye protection for lay rescuers. Sturdier frames will protect from both infection and injury. Clear plastic facemasks also provide eye protection, though only against liquids.

Lay rescuers may not have access to the following "official" PPE, but they are all part of Standard Precautions and can be improvised in an emergency:

Gowns

Full-body gowns are not used very often outside of the hospital, but lay rescuers can keep an emergency gown in a first aid kit, or cover themselves with extra clothing in a pinch. A gown can also serve a practical purpose protecting your favorite shirt or blouse.

Sharps Container

Contaminated sharps such as needles and blades must be deposited into a puncture-proof container. Use caution handling contaminated points and edges. These containers protect sanitation workers as well as other rescuers from injury.

Biohazardous Waste

Contaminated waste should be placed into a red, bio-hazardous waste container to distinguish it from regular garbage. When working with an ambulance, it's common for the EMS crew to allow lay rescuers to dispose of their contaminated items in the ambulance's biohazard container. Every ambulance has one.

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Article Sources

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  • Broussard IM, Kahwaji CI. Universal Precautions. [Updated 2019 Mar 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.

  • World Health Organization. Patient Safety. Glove Use Information.