Personal protective equipment

Your employer is required to implement measures to eliminate or minimize the potential for exposure to COVID-19 while you work. Personal protective equipment is only one of those measures and must be combined with others to reduce risks to you. 

Your workplace OH&S rights – COVID-19 PPE

You have a right to a safe workplace. View HEU's poster on your basic health and safety rights.

Your rights & personal protective equipment (PPE)

Right to know:

  • Your employer must provide you with training in how to correctly put on, take off, dispose of, or maintain the personal protective equipment you need for your job, to protect you from COVID19.
  • Your employer must inform you when you must use the PPE. For example, Look for signage are patient room doors.
  • Your employer must inform you of the other measures implemented to reduce the potential for exposure to COVID19.

Right to Participate

  • You have the right to ask questions about what measures are in place to protect you and to raise the concerns you have. Two ways to participate are speaking directly with your supervisor, and connecting with your JOHSC member.

Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

  • You have the right to refuse to do unsafe work, such as tasks you believe will put you or anyone else at risk of injury or work-related illness. You must follow the process.
  • While your concern is being investigated, you may be assigned to temporary alternative work at no loss of pay, until the matter is resolved.
  • You cannot be disciplined in any way for exercising your right to refuse unsafe work even if WorkSafeBC decides the work is safe.
Which Personal Protective Equipment do I need?

You must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when providing care to someone under investigation or confirmed with COVID-19.

When someone with COVID-19 speaks, coughs or sneezes they expel droplets containing the virus.  Current science suggests these droplets can travel up to 6 feet, landing on people and surfaces in the environment nearby as they settle to the ground.

The virus can spread if these droplets land in your eyes, nose or throat when you are in close contact, such as providing direct patient care. It can also spread if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.  

Watch the World Health Organization's video explaining how COVID-19 is spread.

At this time, routine care for patients under investigation or confirmed to have COVID-19 requires contact and droplet precautions to help prevent virus droplets from reaching your eyes, nose, and mouth while you work.

Contact and droplet precautions are:
-    Gloves
-    Gown
-    Surgical or medical mask
-    Eye or face protection (such as a visor or goggles)

For the steps to put on and take off this PPE, visit the BC CDC’s webpage.

N95 respirators

Health care workers must wear an N95 respirator, instead of the regular mask, when performing or assisting with an aerosol-generating medical procedure (AGMP).

N95s are specialized masks that filter the tiny droplets from the air you breathe, preventing you from breathing in the very small droplets that may be released during an AGMP. You must pass a fit test to use an N95.

AGMPs Requiring N95 respirators for patients or residents suspected of having COVID-2019, confirmed to have COVID19, or those with influenza like illness: 
•    Autopsies involving respiratory tissues
•    CPR with Bag valve mask ventilation
•    Bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage
•    Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP)
•    Intubation and extubation procedures
•    Nasopharyngeal aspirates, washes, and scoping
•    Nebulized therapy
•    Open airway suctioning
•    Sputum Induction

You require an N95 if you are:

  • assisting with one of these procedures
  • going into a room to assist while one is being done
  • entering a room immediately after one is done
  • entering a room after one is done, before the required air clearance time has lapsed.

Air clearance time is the time in minutes needed for air exchanges to reduce contaminants in the air. In general:

  • in acute care a minimum of 1 hour is required to pass before its safe to enter a room without an N95, after an AGMP is complete
  • in long term care a minimum of 2 hours is required to pass before its safe to enter a room without an N95, after an AGMP is complete

This is for any occupation and includes care aides in long term care. For example, if you are assisting a resident with COVID19 during their nebulizer treatment, or entering their room to provide care immediately after one is done, you are required to wear an N95.

For more details please see page 4 of the Information Sheet for Environmental Service Providers in Health Care Settings.

You must be fit tested for an N95 and be provided with training in it’s use. 

Your employer is required to inform you if you need an N95 for your work and provide you with a fit test each year.

If an AGMP is being performed – it must be communicated to staff.  For example, a sign saying “airborne precautions” may be posted at a patient’s door.

Can an N95 respirator be reprocessed?

Yes, some types of N95 respirators can be reprocessed.  

The Ministry of Health is piloting an initiative to reprocess masks for potential reuse by health care workers during the COVID-19 response. They are working with Infection Prevention and Controls experts, Medical Device Reprocessing experts, mask manufacturers, and Health Canada.

According to their bulletin, reprocessed respirators are marked as reprocessed, inspected and assessed to ensure they meet NIOSH/Health Canada and WorkSafeBC requirements before they are stockpiled.  Reprocessed masks will be stockpiled and only used in a circumstance where new N95s or equivalent respirators are not available.

For more information, click here.

Is there guidance for the safe-handling of deceased persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19?

Yes, the BC CDC and Ministry of Health have published an Interim Guidance.

According to the guidance, workers must follow Routine Practices, which includes the appropriate use of PPE, performing diligent hand hygiene with plain soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer (70% alcohol content), appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of equipment, and appropriate environmental cleaning.

Your employer is required to inform you of what PPE you need and procedures to follow if your tasks involve moving or handling a deceased person.

What is the guidance for laundry and cleaning in health care settings?

The Ministry of Health has published a new “COVID-19 Information Sheet for Environmental Service Providers in Health Care Settings”.

It provides guidance on:

  • personal protective equipment for housekeeping and environmental service staff
  • environmental cleaning
  • waste management
  • handling laundry

The document confirms the following:

  • Environmental service staff are not to enter rooms or open-air COVID-19 units where an Aerosol Generating Medical Procedure (AGMP) has been conducted until required time has elapsed for air exchanges, and to use a fit-tested N95 respirator if entry to a room is required immediately after an AGMP procedure or before the required air clearance time has lapsed.
  • For cleaning tasks in rooms where an AGMP is not involved, the PPE housekeeping and environmental service staff working in COVID19 units or rooms on droplet and contact precautions is:
    • Gloves
    • Gown
    • Eye protection (goggles, face shield, a mask with a visor, or safety glasses) 
    • Mask (surgical/procedure mask or one suited to the cleaning products being used)
    • Closed work shoes

It also states  “During the COVID-19 pandemic, all persons working in or visiting a Long-Term Care and Seniors Assisted Living facility should wear a surgical mask for the full duration of their shift or visit:

  • Surgical masks should be removed just prior to breaks or when leaving the facility.  
  • Surgical masks should be changed if the masks become wet, damaged or visibly soiled.
  • Once removed, the mask must be disposed of or placed in a receptacle for reprocessing. Do not put the mask back on.

For more information, click here.

How do I clean my eye protection?

If you are provided reusable eye or facial protection, it must be disinfected before use.
In some cases, such as acute care/hospital sites, there may be a procedure in place to have equipment reprocessed for you.

In smaller settings like community health or long-term care, you may be assigned to clean this equipment.  In this case, your employer is required to provide you with information, training, and supplies to complete the task.

The BC CDC has published the following guidance on how to disinfect eye and facial protection:

My eye or facial protection is too hot/making me dizzy/doesn’t fit right.

You must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as required by your employer, including eye or facial protection (such as a face shield, visor or goggles).

Your employer must ensure that eye or facial protection fits properly and that the PPE itself does not create a hazard when you’re wearing it. Your employer should also consult with your Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (JOHSC) about what PPE is right for you and the hazards at your workplace.

If your eye or facial protection doesn’t fit right or is making you hot or dizzy, here are some steps you can take:

  • Tell your supervisor. Explain that when you wear the eye or face protection that the employer has provided, you are experiencing symptoms that could lead to injury and that it is a ‘near miss’ incident.
  • Report the ‘near miss’ incident.
  1. If you work for a health authority, report it to the employer’s Workplace Health Call Centre at 1-866-922-9464
  2. If you work for an affiliate or independent employer, fill out an Incident/Injury Report. Ask your supervisor for the form.
  • Tell your JOHSC Worker Representative about it so they can raise the issue at their next meeting. If you don’t have a JOHSC at your workplace, contact your Shop Steward for assistance.

If you are a JOHSC Worker Representative and you or your coworkers are experiencing this, add the issue of eye protection to the agenda for your next JOHSC meeting. Explain the situation and work as a committee to come up with solutions, for example that the employer provide different sizes of eye protection or different kinds of eye protection options for workers to choose from. These sections in the OHS Regulation might be helpful in this discussion:

  • OHS Regulation 8.4 says that JOHSC should be consulted when evaluating whether PPE is required and what PPE is appropriate.
  • OHS Regulation 8.3 states that the PPE must not in itself create a hazard to the worker wearing it.
  • OHS Regulation 8.14 says that eye protection must fit the worker properly.