COVID-19 Has Permanently Altered How Firms And Workers View Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

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COVID-19 Has Permanently Altered How Firms And Workers View Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

If we were to look back to this time one year ago, most people in the general public would have a faint idea of what the term PPE (personal protective equipment) meant and would have most likely conjured up an image of a worker in a full hazmat suit. Now, at the end of 2020, the term PPE has become a household term as respirators, masks and gloves have become commonplace to accomplish even daily tasks. COVID-19 has highlighted the need for need for effective and high-quality PPE to protect not only workers but neighbors and family from exposure. While the first vaccines begin to be distributed and an end to the pandemic within reach, we begin to ask what role will PPE play in the post-pandemic world? Will people continue to wear masks in public? Will firms continue to require masks and other PPE as part of daily operations? 

The pandemic showed the importance of well-managed PPE policies and equipment handling procedures. Firms invested heavily to build up PPE inventories since the beginning of the pandemic. In our latest global survey of 301 EHS decision-makers, 51% of respondents plan to increase spend on PPE in 2021 compared to 2020, with 9% increasing spend by over 25%. While this data was collected before viable vaccines were announced, there will still be months of outbreaks expected as population vaccinate and the need for PPE is still at an all-time high. Additionally, regulatory bodies, such as OSHA, have begun to levy fines on firms who are not properly protecting workers by providing and fit-testing workers on PPE for COVID-19 prevention. Luckily, digital solutions, like EHS software, offer tools for firms to manage their PPE to comply with regulations and protect their workforce. For example, Engage EHS offers a PPE management module that tracks PPE issuance, lifecycles and certifications. Similarly, Gensuite’s PPE Manager can define pandemic and operations critical PPE, manage inventory and project PPE usage overtime.

With a vaccine looming, what happens next with PPE at the workplace? Will firms go back to the way they approached PPE before COVID-19. Will vendors continue to develop new PPE use cases? We have certainly seen how COVID-19 adaptations have resulted in non-reversible changes – for instance the adoption of new remote tools, and aspects of their digitization programmes. This points towards the possibility of a permanent shift in how firms will approach PPE in the future. Industrial IoT wearables for EHS have seen increased adoption for COVID-19 contact tracing and worker proximity sensing – this is likely to stay given the improvements in safety this can bring. Smart PPE, which was a buzz several years ago before being drowned out by the pandemic, should see renewed interest as firms see increased budgets for PPE, and while the social acceptance of PPE by workers has grown. Ultimately, COVID-19 has pushed PPE into the public eye and will change the way firms view and manage their PPE in the future.

Bill Pennington

VP Research, EHS & Risk Management

Bill is the VP Research for the Verdantix EHS & Risk Management practices. His current agenda focuses on understanding the evolution of EHS and enterprise risk management, evaluating emerging strategic risks and benchmarking technology buyers’ budgets, priorities and preferences globally.