Occupational safety and health students help frontline workers with PPE fit guides

A qualitative fit test is done to ensure proper fit of a respirator, a key piece of personal protective equipment.
A qualitative fit test is done to ensure proper fit of a respirator, a key piece of personal protective equipment.
Image Credit: Courtesy Photo

In a normal workday setting for health care workers who normally wear personal protective equipment, or PPE, the same equipment that workers know fits properly is readily available. But when the COVID-19 pandemic created shortages of PPE at many health care facilities, the need for respirators and gloves was met with donations. 

While the donations were needed, using equipment without a proper fit can render the equipment less effective than it would normally be. 

To help address this concern, Grand Valley Occupational Safety and Health students have created helpful guides for health care workers that provide a step-by-step tutorial for qualitative fit-testing different styles and brands of respirators.

"The guide also provides information about the different types of respirators and provides information on the acceptable conditions, and maximum efficiency," said professor of occupational safety and health Derek McCormick.

McCormick said that the N95 mask, which has become commonplace since the pandemic began, is intended to filter 95 percent of contaminants from the air. That efficiency goes down if the mask isn't worn properly, or doesn't fit right.

"Knowing how to fit-test these respirators is important because OSHA requires employers to assess hazards in the workplace and provide the right PPE, and employees want to be using the right equipment for the job," McCormick said. "This project helps identify the best way to use the tools available for health and safety."

A different group of occupational safety and health students also created a guide for proper cleaning and PPE in room sanitization processes. Again, in normal times the same kind of sanitizer would be used in a health care setting, but with shortages of chemicals and cleaners, non-standard solutions are being used. 

Those different chemicals and cleaners have different exposure risks, which can be mitigated by different kinds of gloves that are designed to protect from different hazards. The students created a list of cleaners that can be used in place of normal sanitizing processes, and what PPE should be used to protect workers from side effects or other hazards.

"These seniors and recent graduates are making a difference in a unique way," McCormick said. "Helping protect frontline workers in our health settings during a pandemic is a wonderful and important way to showcase what they have learned at Grand Valley."