3 things the pandemic taught us about PPE

By a British Manufacturer of Medical PPE

 

 

 

  By Wayne Matthews

Lessons Learnt from the Pandemic

PPE existed long before COVID-19, but the pandemic led to more clinicians wearing additional PPE for longer periods. This unique situation has taught us much about PPE, with lessons for manufacturers and procurement professionals alike.

Three of these are particularly important and worth drawing attention to: 

Comfort is Vital

SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus, so in high-risk areas like hospitals, staff have to wear PPE for hours at a time. While PPE is only mildly discomforting for those of us temporarily wearing a disposable mask in a shop, the constant use of face and eye protection products can cause facial pressure sores and injuries [1], reducing morale and preventing staff from performing effectively.

The pandemic has taught manufacturers to focus on end users and the ergonomics of each product, not just the technical and regulatory requirements that they have to meet. It has become clear that comfort isn’t a ‘nice to have’ – it should be a core feature of every product.

By designing comfortable products that can be worn for long periods, manufacturers can help staff provide better care to patients. At Tecman, we regularly engage with end users to get feedback and understand how product design impacts their work. We took insights from these sessions and used it to ergonomically design face shields that utilised super soft foam padding and skin friendly materials so frontline workers could work safely and effectively.

Tecman's face shield with supersoft foam and skin friendly materials

The Environmental Cost is Huge

PPE is not good for the environment. It’s necessary because it protects people and saves lives, but it often involves the use of huge volumes of unsustainable resources [2], and lots of used items end up on streets and in rivers and tangled in trees.

We decided right at the start that we were going to develop products in the most sustainable way possible, so we use reusable bioplastic made from trees for our Optec® face shields and use advanced manufacturing techniques to reduce the total amount of plastic used in our other products. Manufacturers need to look at their supply chains and make adjustments wherever they can, whether that be sourcing materials from within the UK, or using compact packaging to minimise logistical emissions.

Optec® Reusable Face Shield System made with biomaterials

Quality isn’t Expensive

‘Made in the UK’ and ‘sustainable’ are often respected and aspirational labels but can rule products out of serious consideration, as many procurement professionals automatically assume they are unaffordable. The pandemic has shown this not to be the case - sustainable, quality, comfortable PPE doesn’t have to be expensive.

ICU clinician wearing Tecman face shield

UK manufacturers are investing in automation technology and smart manufacturing processes, which drive efficiencies in production and enable savings to be passed onto customers resulting in costs that are competitive with imported product from low-cost regions. That being said, manufacturers need to make a conscious decision to work more sustainably. For those that do, there isn’t a trade off between cost and sustainability – you can have both.

 

This article was written by Wayne Matthews, Business Development Manager at Tecman.

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/iwj.13534.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/17/ppe-use-in-england-generated-colossal-amount-of-carbon

 

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