Personal protective equipment (PPE) plays an important role in protecting people’s health when cleaning up cyclone damage.
It can be used to protect from harm caused by things you:
- breathe in
- accidently swallow
- come into direct contact with.
There is a variety of chemical and biological contamination hazards in flood waters and silt.
Common PPE used in flood recovery includes:
- coveralls or long-sleeved shirts and pants
- sturdy closed-toe footwear
- safety glasses, goggles or face shields
- masks such as a P2 disposable or reusable half face respirator with P2 filters.
For more information about PPE, see Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Carry out a risk assessment
A risk assessment is important to understand who may be exposed and what controls are required. Remember, you should avoid using PPE where it’s not necessary.
You may wish to seek advice about completing a risk assessment. One way you can find specialists to provide advice on carrying out risk assessments is using the HASANZ register(external link). There will be a cost for their service.
Consider the additional risks of wearing PPE, such as how the PPE works together or whether it will make it hot to work. Check that the work tasks can be carried out safely while wearing PPE.
Put other control measures in place first
Although PPE is important you should also consider other controls, such as:
- only remove silt when necessary
- using machinery with a closed cabin
- wetting down dusty material
Masks used for cleaning up will include disposable and reusable respirators. These types of masks are designed to achieve a tight seal with the face to keep out harmful substances.
There are different types of respirators that protect from different substances. Particulate respiratory protection is commonly used for clean-up work such as a disposable P1, P2, N95 or a reusable respirator with a P1, P2 or P3 filter.
It is unlikely, but if there are known gases or vapours such as areas with chemical contamination, you will need to use a reusable respirator with the correct gas and vapour cartridge with a particulate prefilter. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or guidance about selecting the right respiratory protection based on your risk assessment.
Carry out fit testing for workers who will be wearing respirators
Fit testing is important to ensure the respirator selected provides a good seal to protect the wearer. Without that seal, the harmful substances can make its way past the respirator.
There is no such thing as a one size fits all. You must ensure that the respirator fits the wearer and is comfortable. This means you may need to provide a variety of respirators for your workforce.
Fit testing should be carried by a person who is competent, such as those on the Commit2Fit register(external link).
Fit testing is in high demand and may not be immediately available. Until fit testing can be carried out, training and supervision for wearers is even more critical. You and your workers should prioritise this.
Train workers on the correct use of respirators
Your workers must be trained to put their respirator on, wear it correctly, and take it off. They must also be trained to carry out a seal check each time they put the respirator on. Follow manufacturers’ guidelines on these tasks.
Workers need to pay attention to:
- the respirator’s position on their face
- wearing the straps in the correct position
- wearing the respirator with other PPE, glasses, or jewellery correctly
- being clean shaven where the respirator seals the face
- other factors that affect fit such as significant weight loss or gain, dentures, or facial surgery.
Note: Facial hair and stubble – even one day’s growth – make it almost impossible to get a good seal. If your workers have beards you will need to consider alternative controls to manage the risks.
Make sure workers know when to change respirators and how long they can be used for the task being undertaken
Set clear expectations for how long a respirator can be used. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or guidance about the use of respiratory protection.
Document details in workers’ personnel records
Make sure you keep records of the training and fit testing each worker receives.
Have a process in place to issue and maintain respirators
If you decide your workers should wear a respirator, you are responsible for providing them, fit testing, and providing a medical assessment if required. Your workers shouldn’t be made to pay for their own respirators.
Our expectations about fit testing for respirators used for cleaning up after Cyclone Gabrielle
In the current situation, when a business or service decides to use respirators while cleaning up from Cyclone Gabrielle, it may not be reasonably practicable to complete fit testing by an appropriately qualified person before using the respirator. This is due to the limited access to professional fit testing services in the affected areas.
In these situations, we still expect other aspects of a respiratory protection equipment programme to be in place, such as a clean-shaven policy, training, and supervision. And that businesses and services have fit testing carried out as soon as possible.
In all other situations where a respirator is normally used by workers, we expect businesses and services fit test all workers wearing tight fitting respirators.
More information for business using RPE of any type is included in our quick guide Respiratory protective equipment – advice for businesses