By Ken Roy
Posted on 2020-11-02
It is essential that all occupants in a science or STEM laboratory wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during hands-on activities and/or demonstrations. This would include students, instructors, and visitors. Appropriate safety action including PPE is dependent upon the results of doing a hazard analysis and risk assessment.
In the COVID-19 era, the PPE must be cleaned/sanitized and disinfected before the next participant uses it. Goggles, gloves, and aprons are the most commonly used and shared PPE in academic science/STEM laboratories. Safety glasses and face shields may also be appropriate, again depending on the hazards and risks during an activity. Administrators, supervisors, students, and teachers need to know the proper protocols to clean/sanitize and disinfect PPE before they are shared among participants.
One solution to eliminate the sharing of PPE during the coronavirus pandemic is to provide each student with their own PPE. However, this solution has a couple of downsides. First, it can be cost-prohibitive to purchase and/or not readily available at times due to shortages. Second, what do you do if a student loses or forgets their PPE? Will they be able to participate in the lab by borrowing PPE? If yes, the PPE needs to be cleaned/sanitized and disinfected before they are returned. A word of warning--if you require your students to provide their own pairs of goggles, make sure the goggles meet the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 D-3 standard. (See https://blog.safetyglassesusa.com/what-does-ansi-z87-1-2010-certified-mean [read 9/7/20]).
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the protocols for cleaning/sanitizing and disinfecting have changed. For example, safety goggles should first be cleaned with soap and water. This is part of the “Clean First, Disinfect Second” protocols. Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions, if available. The entire surface of the goggles should be cleaned. This includes the nose bridge and the ear stems.
Once the goggles are washed, rinsed, and dried, the goggles should be placed in the germicidal goggle sanitizer cabinet. Recently, research has shown that the ultraviolet waves (UV-C) used in germicidal cabinets can destroy the coronavirus (see https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-67211-2 [read 9/15/20]), thus disinfecting the goggles. If you do not have a germicidal goggle sanitizer cabinet, disinfect the goggles using an EPA-approved disinfectant to disable and stop the spread of the coronavirus. The approved list of disinfectants is found on the EPA’s website under List-N (see https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2-covid-19 [read 9/6/20]). Again, please follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Gloves and aprons are also commonly used PPE in the academic laboratory. Disposable gloves and aprons should be disposed of properly and never reused. When removing these items, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for removal to prevent contact between your skin and those surfaces of the PPE that were exposed to airborne particles.
If your facilities are equipped with reusable gloves and aprons, they must be cleaned/sanitized and disinfected, if necessary, before they are reused (see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/global-covid-19/schools.html [read 9/16/20]). Do not allow the PPE to be shared without first cleaning/sanitizing and disinfecting it. As usual, if possible and available, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to properly clean the items using the warmest temperatures possible (see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html [read 9/16/20]).
If not available, the following safety protocols are recommended as a viable alternative:
Two notes on cleaning/sanitizing/disinfecting PPE. If there is residual disinfectant compromising visibility, rinse the PPE with tap water. Finally, always remember to wear gloves when cleaning/sanitizing and disinfecting PPE. Once the process is completed, remove the gloves and perform hand cleaning/sanitizing with soap and water.
While trying to create a sense of normalcy in the science classroom and encouraging students to find their passions in the laboratory, it is vital that we follow proper protocols and procedures for sharing PPE. These protocols and procedures are different during the COVID-19 pandemic, and extra care should be taken to make sure everyone in the academic science/STEM laboratory is kept safer.
Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.
Acknowledgement: NSTA Chief Safety Blogger Dr. Ken Roy wishes to sincerely thank nationally recognized District Supervisor of Science Kevin S. Doyle, Ed. D., Morris Hills Regional High School District, Rockaway, New Jersey (email@example.com) for his professional review of this commentary.