What is PPE? The in-depth guide for 2021

Health and Safety regulations in many business sectors already impose protective equipment for staff, but with COVID-19 present in society, most businesses now have to issue PPE to staff who wouldn’t usually be required to, because of this it is important to understand which types of PPE can help you, your business, your staff, and your customers stay safe during these challenging times.

PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment and can apply to a wide variety of products in different business sectors such as helmets, gloves, ear defenders, steel toe cap boots and high viz jackets for construction workers or Scrubs, bouffant caps, visors, and face masks for healthcare workers. Due to the pandemic, many of these items now cross over into many different sectors and the most common types of Personal Protection equipment needed to help keep staff and customers safe are Face masks, Face Shields, Goggles, Gloves, coveralls and gowns, and hand sanitiser.

doctor holding surgical mask

Face Masks

There are many different face masks on the market and much confusion surrounding which are most effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. You can split face masks into two categories Medical face masks and Civilian face masks.

Different standards of Face mask

Depending on where you are in the world there are different standards medical masks and respirators must meet. In Europe, medical face masks must comply with the EU directive EN 14683, which has three levels of bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE1, BFE2, and Type R). In the USA masks must comply with ASTM standards.

Respirators in the EU have to comply with the EU directive EN 149: 2001, which has 3 standards of particle respirator in the directive (FFP3, FFP2 and FFP1). While respirators in the USA must comply to the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) standards.

FFP3 Mask

Medical Face Masks (For use in hospital and care settings)

  • FFP3 Fitted Face masks
  • FFP2 Face masks
  • Type IIR Surgical face masks
  • Type II Surgical face masks
  • Type IR surgical face masks
  • Type I Surgical face masks

Civilian Face Masks (Being worn by the general public)

  • Civilian 3ply Face masks
  • KN95 Face Masks
  • Anti-viral Face masks
  • Cloth face Masks
  • Sponge face masks
  • DIY Cloth face masks
  • Bandanas and neckerchiefs

Medical Grade Face Masks for Medical Professionals 

FFP3 Fitted Face Masks

Designed to protect the wearer from microscopic particles specifically being spread airborne via aerosol procedures. For example, you will see FFP3 masks being worn in ICU units or dentist surgeries because these environments frequently use aerosol procedures.

FFP3 fitted face masks come in many different models, shapes, and sizes meaning a fit test is necessary every time a mask is applied to ensure it is safe.


What is the Fit Test?

A Fit Test is a test to ensure no air leaks from the mask, you must be clean-shaven to wear an FFP3 fitted mask and remove any glasses before a fit test is carried out with hair tied back from the face.

FFP3 Face masks are single-use and should never be reused and should always be worn with other essential personal protection equipment.

FFP2 Face masks

 FFP2 Face masks are similar to FFP3 face masks but are not fitted and recommended for primary, outpatient, and social care settings. FFP2 face masks are lightweight and easy to use and filter out up to 95% of particles that could contain viruses. These face masks are also single-use and should always be worn with other essential personal protection equipment FFP2 masks should be disposed of in a sealed bin once worn. Note FFP2 face masks with valves should not be worn, the valve releases unfiltered respiratory aerosols into the surrounding area potentially spreading harmful viruses.

surgical masks

Type IIR Surgical masks

Type IIR surgical masks have 4 layers of protection, fluid-resistant, and offer a bacterial filtration efficiency of 98%. These masks are tested on their effectiveness of exhalation because of this Type IIR Surgical masks can stop the wearer from spreading the infection to surrounding areas.


Type II

Type II face masks are 3ply medical-grade masks made with a non-woven fabric inner. Type II face masks protect the wearer from large respiratory droplets but will not protect from splashes or sprays, unlike the type IIR surgical masks.  


Type I and Type IR

Type I and Type IR face masks are 3ply medical grade face masks with a bacterial efficiency of 95% compared to type II with a bacterial efficiency of 98%. Type I protect the wearer from spreading viruses to people in close proximity.



Civilian 3ply face masks 

Civilian 3ply face masks are similar to medical-grade 3ply masks, they are manufactured with the same specifications as Type I or Type II but have not been manufactured in a certified medical facility. Civilian face masks are intended to help reduce the spread of viruses in confined spaces. Elite Hygiene Civilian 3ply face masks are manufactured to type IIR and have a bacterial efficacy rating of 98.99%.



KN95 Face masks

KN95 face masks are the Chinese equivalent to the N95 face masks they have a bacterial filtration efficiency of 95%. Compared to the N95, KN95 has a slightly lower pressure drop which makes them slightly less “breathable” It is important to always check the CE or FDA certificate for their authenticity as these masks are not recommended for medical use within Europe.


Cloth Face masks

Cloth masks can be somewhat effective in stopping the spread of viruses depending on the material used but not ideal. Unlike Surgical or FFP masks, these masks have been tested for their efficacy against small particles. If you are wearing cloth face masks it’s recommended to wear a cotton mask with three layers.


Bandanas and Neck Gators

A recent study carried out by Duke University discovered that Bandanas and Neck gators offer little to no protection from coronavirus and should not be used as face coverings. The reason being the material is too porous meaning the virus particles called Virions can pass through the fabric easily. 




Gloves are critical pieces of PPE and there are many different types for different applications regarding preventing the spread of COVID-19 medical grade or industrial nitrile or latex gloves are most common although some retail businesses supply their staff with plastic gloves.


Latex Gloves

Latex gloves as the name suggests are made from latex, most commonly found in hospital settings but can be found in multiple different settings from car mechanics or food preparation. Latex gloves are extremely elasticated making them very dexterous. Latex gloves fit tightly to the wearer preventing liquids and materials from getting underneath the glove. Latex gloves are also tear and rip-resistant.  


Nitrile Gloves

Nitrile gloves are made with synthetic rubber, created with a combination of acrylonitrile and butadiene. Nitrile gloves are very durable and puncture-resistant. They are used most commonly by people with Latex allergies and can be used in a wide range of industries from Healthcare, tattooists, and food preparation.


Plastic (Polythene) Gloves

Plastic or Polythene gloves are loose fit gloves most commonly used in food preparation or hair dying. This type of glove offers little protection against viruses.


Protective eyewear and visors

Eye protection is important to help prevent the spread of coronavirus there are plenty of different types of goggles some in the form of glasses or goggles, and others in the form of visors

As coronavirus is transmitted via droplets protective eyewear and visors are important pieces of personal protective equipment.


Protective Glasses

Protective glasses can help to provide impact protection but will not protect well from respiratory droplets or splashes or sprays and are not recommended for use in infection control.


Protective Goggles

The most practical form of eye protection to protect from splashes and respiratory droplets are correctly fitted, indirectly-ventilated, and anti-fog coated protective goggles. Directly ventilated goggles can allow splashes and respiratory droplets to enter the goggles. It is important to note the indirectly-ventilated or non-ventilated goggles are recommended for infection control.


Face Shields

Although face shields are being used widely throughout care settings they do not provide optimal protection against coronavirus and should be used in conjunction with masks and goggles. A face shield covers the whole of the face surrounding the ears which could prevent splashes and respiratory droplets from entering the eyes through the side of the shield.

Protective Clothing

Surgical team wearing ppe

Surgical Gowns

Surgical gowns are regulated by government bodies and need to be certified before they can be used in surgical settings. These pieces of personal protective garments are intended for use in all levels of hospital care and are designed to protect the wearer and patient from microorganisms, bodily fluids, and particulate matter. Surgical gowns must be labeled as surgical gowns to be sold.



Surgical-Isolation Gowns

Surgical gowns are intended for use where there is a medium to high risk of contamination and protect more parts of the wearer’s body, like Surgical gowns these personal protective garments are regulated as medical devices and need to be approved by a regulatory body before use in a care setting.


Non-Surgical Gowns

Non-surgical are class 1 medical devices and are intended for use in low-risk areas and are designed to protect the wearer from microorganisms and bodily fluids. Non-surgical gowns are not worn in surgical, invasive procedures and medium to high-risk settings.

Man using hand sanitiser

Hand Sanitiser

We should all be aware of how important hand hygiene is in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Soap and warm water are the most effective at destroying the fatty lipids in the bilayer of the virus. However, if soap and water are not available certain types of hand sanitizers can be effective at killing the virus.


Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitisers

Alcohol Free Hand Sanitiser usually comes in a foam, there is very little evidence to prove alcohol free hand sanitiser is effective in killing the coronavirus. These alcohol-free hand sanitisers can be softer and gentler on the skin but are more effective in stopping bacteria compared to viruses.


Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitisers

You’ve probably heard that alcohol-based sanitiser with an alcohol content of 60% or above to be effective at stopping coronavirus, alcohol content of 60% to 95% is effective at breaking down the virus. Most alcohol-based hand sanitiser is comprised of two alcohols ethanol and isopropyl some can contain both.


HOCL Based Hand Sanitisers

HOCL stands for Hypochlorous acid which is the world’s oldest disinfectant. HOCL is found naturally in human white blood cells and helps our body naturally fight viruses. Hypochlorous acid is made by electrolyzing salt and water. The electricity partially dissociates sodium chlorite forming HOCL. The solution is just as effective as bleach but contains no harmful chemicals and is environmentally friendly. HOCL can be used as both a hand sanitiser or a surface disinfectant.