How to buy personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE represents a broad category of equipment that serves as a the barrier between EMS professionals and hazards such as bloodborne pathogens and environmental conditions

Updated May 6, 2015

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the barrier between EMS professionals and bloodborne pathogens, airborne pathogens, wet and dry chemicals, environmental conditions, CBRN and other hazards. PPE is needed for a safe and efficient emergency response and represents a broad category of equipment that includes apparel and dermal protection, helmets, gloves, footwear, outwear, eye protection, and respiratory protection.

When purchasing PPE for EMS professionals consider these things:

1. Determine PPE needed based on the risk assessment as well as state and national regulations.

Employers have an obligation to determine the hazards present; give guidance to employees on the selection, maintenance and use of PPE; train employees to use PPE; and to monitor the PPE program. In many cases, employers are also obligated by local, state or national funding sources to apply PPE funds toward the purchase of equipment that is certified by a federal agency such as NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health).

2. Choose PPE that is functional and appropriate.

The requirement for high visibility outerwear introduced a whole host of jackets and vests for emergency responders. To ensure usage select PPE that is easy to put on, meets applicable requirements, provides maximum comfort, and does not impair field personnel’s ability to perform duties.

3. Decisions should be based on safety first.

The traditional work uniform for EMS professionals – blue or black trousers with blue or black shirts is difficult to see in low light conditions and may make EMS professional indistinguishable from other emergency responders or even incident bystanders. Select PPE that will first maximize EMS professional safety in an unpredictable and hazardous work environment.

For certain EMS/First Responder applications, look for products that provide reflective capabilities and, in the instance of respiratory or visual protection, provide good visual clearance and field of view. Select products that allow visual recognition among end users (such as clear lenses, no obstruction of core facial characteristics).

4. Ensure fabrics and construction meet applicable standards and workplace requirements of your workplace.

Dual role firefighter/EMTs may need apparel that has flame resistant characteristics. Whenever possible, PPE equipment should meet NIOSH and/or NFPA certification standards to ensure the highest level of quality and safety.

5. Select high quality task-specific PPE that will maximize actual usage.

For example, many disposable face shields that offer respiratory and eye protection are usually scratched and streaked because of construction and storage issues. They will then be rarely used because they make performance of airway management more difficult.

Don’t cut corners on quality or level of protection, buy products that have been thoroughly tested against the actual rigors of use in the field. Ensure your PPE users are properly trained on the use, maintenance and storage of the equipment by the PPE provider.

Finally, when selecting PPE, like apparel, boots, and helmets, for your field personnel that will be worn on every incident make sure the construction, fit, and styling reflects the level of professionalism that your agency strives to meet.

Any other suggestions for purchasing personal protective equipment? What features do you seek? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or email with your feedback.

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