COVID-19: PPE and personal safety in the workplace

David Spence
June 9th, 2020

Because of how the novel coronavirus spreads, one of the best defenses against COVID-19 is personal protective equipment (PPE), especially when employees transition back into the office.

Because of how the novel coronavirus spreads, one of the best defenses against COVID-19 is personal protective equipment (PPE), especially when employees transition back into the office.

Physical distancing is critical to mitigating the spread, but PPE acts as another line of defense (literally) and can prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. PPE may be mandatory in the workplace as people start to transition back into the office. Also, to prevent issues of liability, companies need to adhere to new health and safety guidelines


We’re discussing the importance of PPE in the workplace as well as how facility managers (FMs) can roll out an effective PPE plan to keep employees safe and healthy.

How can PPE stop the spread of COVID-19?

In addition to physical distancing, PPE is one of the leading ways to prevent the coronavirus spread. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person contact.” This could mean two people who are in close contact with one another (within 6 feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. COVID-19 may be spread through people who do not show signs of symptoms, making it critical to practice physical distancing at all times.

The CDC also recommends covering your nose and mouth with a cloth face cover when around others, in addition to frequent hand washing. To stop the spread of the virus, the CDC also recommends wearing face coverings in public settings—like a workplace—to protect yourself and others from potentially being exposed to the virus. 

In short, wearing PPE is a fundamental part of keeping the workplace safe for all and of slowing the spread of the virus.

What are companies obligated to provide in terms of PPE?

Employers are required to provide PPE for employees returning to the physical workplace, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. To ensure employees are appropriately protected and feel safe to return to work, companies must pull resources together to provide PPE for each employee.

Providing masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other items is critical to ensure employees can protect themselves and others from the virus. It’s your organization’s responsibility to make employees feel safe and taken care of at all times, especially within the first few weeks of being back in the physical office.

One great idea is to provide employees with a PPE care package that includes cloth masks, gloves, a shield for their desk, and hand sanitizer. Companies that are integrating sensor technology into their COVID-19 workplace plan could also offer badges that have sensor integration to make things like turning on lights, opening doors, and entering the building a no-touch experience.

Aside from providing employees with these materials, it’s essential to conduct routine checks to ensure they are using the PPE correctly and that their PPE is cleaned and sanitized frequently. Offering a PPE sanitizing station may be a viable option for some companies as well. That way, employees know that their PPE is sanitized every day and don’t have to worry about using dirty materials.

No matter how you choose to implement accessible PPE for all employees, make sure you equip them with the basics such as masks and a sanitizer solution.


How can FMs source PPE?

Figuring out how to obtain PPE and what kinds to purchase will likely depend on your company and its needs. Assess what kind of PPE your company many need, like masks and gloves. Some may need other types of equipment—like shields, gowns, etc.—in addition to the standard type of PPE.

For the most part, your employees should have access to: masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and desk shields.

If you have many employees to provide PPE with, looking into wholesale options might be the best approach. Make sure the equipment is high-quality, properly functioning, and up to standards as set by health organizations such as the CDC, WHO, and OSHA. 

If employees would like to wear PPE they’ve acquired on their own, make sure they clear it with leadership before they start wearing it. Also, sanitizing any outside PPE is an important step in reducing the spread.


Create and enforce PPE guidelines before employees return

It’s vital to have your PPE strategy and materials ready to go before employees return to the office. That way, employees are protected from the get-go and feel safe being in the office.

FMs should create a PPE plan that includes the following:

  • How employees can protect themselves with PPE
  • How PPE should be worn in the workplace
  • How employees can clean their PPE and when to do so
  • How to dispose of PPE when necessary

Your plan should also include the proper signage that explicitly shows employees how to use PPE, when to use it, and other essential information regarding PPE.

It’s also a smart idea to send out a “PPE manual” or a guide that answers common questions and can be something employees refer back to whenever they need. 

In addition to creating a strategy, FMs should have a tracking system in place to make it easy to gauge the effectiveness of the PPE. This could mean conducting daily random checks with employees on whether they’re using the PPE (and properly).

Enforcing PPE guidelines will be critical as employees and company leaders navigate through this adjustment period. As an FM, make yourself available for questions regarding proper PPE usage and other questions employees may have about your guidelines.  

face mask face shield

PPE is essential to creating a safe workplace

Personal protective equipment is a critical part of stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. FMs must create a strategy that will help employees understand the reasoning behind its use, understand how to use it properly, and how to disinfect their PPE.

But like with any other component of your COVID-19 transition plan, the success of your PPE efforts depends on how closely employees wear their PPE and how seriously it’s enforced. 

How has your team approached issuing PPE to employees? Leave a comment below or send us a tweet.

Photo Credits: Edmond Dantès, Alexas_Fotos, Kelly Sikkema, Andrea Piacquadio