Infection prevention and control guidelines

3. Personal protective equipment

Overview – Personal protective equipment

      1. Overview – Personal protective equipment

Last revised: 17 Jun 2024

Overview – Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment includes gloves, fluid-impermeable aprons, gowns, masks, purpose-designed protective glasses, goggles and face shields.

The appropriate personal protective equipment in any clinical situation depends on the risk assessment and the type of clinical procedure or activity.

When used as part of standard precautions (see 5. Levels of precaution), personal protective equipment protects against anticipated exposure to blood or body substances. When used as part of transmission-based precautions, personal protective equipment serves as a physical barrier against the specific modes of transmission identified in risk assessment.

Gloves must be worn by staff at risk of exposure to blood or body substance, or at risk of a disease transmissible by contact. Gloves are mandatory for procedures that involve direct contact with sterile tissue or body cavities, mucous membranes or non-intact skin.

Face and eye protection must be used when there is a risk of splashing or spraying of blood or body substances, such as during surgical procedures, or when there is a risk of droplet or aerosol generation, such as during aerosol-generating procedures, and when cleaning reusable medical devices.

Wear aprons or gowns when there is a risk of soiling clothing from splashes of blood or body substances. Also consider wearing them when there is a risk of contact transmission of pathogenic microorganism, based on a risk assessment.

Sterile gowns are worn for some surgical procedures, when required based on risk assessment (see 4. Aseptic technique).

Masks musts be worn by staff and patients whenever there is a risk of droplet or airborne transmission,  Droplet and airborne modes of transmission are closely interrelated because the relevant infectious matter represents a continuum from large droplets to small particles. Infection prevention and control strategies for these modes overlap substantially. While some experts consider them as one mode of transmission, this guideline retains the distinction between droplet and airborne transmission for consistency with current national guidelines. and during surgical procedures to protect the surgical site.

Personal protective equipment must be applied and removed in the correct order to prevent transmission of infection (Applying and removing personal protective equipment).

Personal protective equipment is designed for single use (for example, to be worn during a consultation with one patient or during a single procedure), then disposed of (gloves, masks, face shields) or appropriately laundered (gowns). However, some items of personal protective equipment are sometimes worn for a longer period (extended use) in special circumstances, such as during a pandemic.