One of the things highlighted in the news this week is the risks of contamination from removing—”doffing”—personal protective equipment. “Meticulous removal, or doffing, of PPE is as important as its meticulous donning,” wrote infectious disease physician Amesh A. Adalja in “Ebola Lessons We Need To Learn From Dallas.”
Most chemists don’t need to fear Ebola, but they do wear PPE to protect from chemical exposure. I asked Iowa State University lab safety specialist Ryan Wyllie and biosafety specialist Amy Helgerson what chemistry researchers should keep in mind when removing their PPE.
“You don’t ever want to have bare skin touching the contaminated parts of the glove,” Helgerson says. Remove the first one by grasping the material between the hand and the cuff, then pull it off while turning it inside out. Remove the second by using a bare finger to reach underneath the other glove and then pull it off, again so that it turns inside out. Then, wash your hands to remove any breakthrough or doffing contamination.
Generally, undo the coat and then pull it off one sleeve at a time, reaching for the inside to avoid contaminating your hands. “If the lab coat is grossly contaminated, then you would want to turn it inside out and put it in the proper receptacle for laundering or disposal,” Wyllie says. For a grossly contaminated coat, you might also want to wear gloves while removing it. Again, wash your hands when you’re done. Ideally, individual lab coats should be hung on individual hooks, so the outside of one doesn’t contaminate the inside of another.
“In most cases, eye protection should be the least contaminated thing that you have on,” Helgerson says, and they should stay on until the moment you leave the lab. It’s usually safe just to take them off. If they are contaminated, then you probably need to worry less about how to safely remove them and more about why you’re not already under the shower.
Other things to consider
First, make sure you’re wearing the correct PPE. For gloves in particular, check a safety data sheet and a compatibility chart to make sure you’re using the correct protection for the chemical hazard.
Also, watch what you touch with your gloves on. Don’t push your eye protection up on the bridge of your nose; don’t use a keyboard that you or others use bare-handed.