The Textile Service Association (TSA) has warned that thousands of UK workers are at risk from inadequately cared for personal protective equipment (PPE), because it is being washed at home.
The TSA says that the care of textile-based PPE and workwear needs to be better understood. Many employees are asked to maintain their PPE in domestic washing machines, which are often inadequate in terms of the controls needed to comply with the manufacturer's requirements for PPE.
TSA has had reports of some employers providing washing rooms for employees to maintain PPE, but again these lack the correct processes and materials. For example, the British Standard ISO 15797 specifies that industrial PPE workwear washing and washing/drying parameters align with the ISO 30023 qualification symbols for labelling workwear, and many have employees have no understanding of this requirement.
"What's important is that the PPE is cared for properly and that this care is logged for traceability and to manage its quality throughout its life," said Shyju Skariah, technical services manager at the TSA.
Alan Murray, chief executive of the British Safety Industry Federation, said: ‘‘PPE is the last line of defence for a worker's safety and health. It must be maintained and cared for in line with manufacturer's instructions to ensure that the garments retain their protective properties. The systems, engineering capabilities and quality assurance protocols within a specialist laundry are set up to do that. Domestic laundering will not provide these controls.
"Furthermore, environmental considerations should be a high priority. Specialist laundries have controls in place to ensure that the effluent from cleaning processes does not pollute the environment.‘'
The TSA warns that disposable PPE does not provide a sustainable answer to the issue. It says that a reusable gown used to protect frontline workers can be washed and reused around 75 times and may be recycled, whereas a single-use PPE gown is clinical waste that requires specialist disposal.
"Employers need to carefully consider how they can ensure that their workforce's protective equipment is competently maintained, to the manufacturer's specification," adds Skariah. "We need to ensure people using PPE are safe. The UK's workforce deserve to be protected."