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Hospital PPE success highlights continued need for Covid safety

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A hospital trust which upgraded its Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline workers found infection rates for those working on Covid wards dropped by up to 100 per cent.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was originally using the recommended traditional surgical masks known as FRSMs (fluid resistant surgical masks) for Covid wards. But it switched to FFP3 respirators which provide a tight seal around the nose and mouth in December 2020 after screening and tracking found staff using FRSMs suffered far higher infections than non-Covid wards.

Once the FFP3s were introduced, the number of cases attributed to exposure on Covid wards dropped dramatically – with mathematical models suggesting they may have cut ward-based infection to zero.

Importance of effective PPE

While it is just one study, this example shows just how important the use of effective PPE can be. Lack of PPE was a factor in the case of Shoosmiths client Mr Jesse Rollason, admitted to hospital due to shortness of breath but confirmed that he had COVID-19. He was considered medically fit to be discharged from hospital, but he could not return home due to a shortage of PPE available to support workers who would be visiting him. Therefore, Mr Rollason was transferred to another hospital ward where his condition deteriorated, and he died two weeks later.

Vigilance still required

As the nation opens up over the summer, the need for effective PPE for non-health and social care workers who work in public facing jobs, such as retail and hospitality becomes even more important. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has lots of useful advice on using PPE at work for both health and social care workers and for those in non-healthcare work. As we all slowly return to offices, retail, hospitality and other work environments, it’s vital to be adequately protected and not let our guard down.

PPE and the law: the employer’s duty of care

The law on PPE is clear: the employer has to keep employees safe in the workplace. Shoosmiths has represented many workers in a wide range of sectors over the years where this duty of care has been breached. If PPE is necessary, and not provided, employers may face compensation claims if employees suffer injury because of that failure, and in some cases, they can be prosecuted. This was the case before Covid, though since the outbreak many new sets of guidance have been issued. The use, procurement and supply of PPE since the pandemic began has been controversial, with healthcare workers citing shortages and, in some cases, equipment not fitting well, particularly for women. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed a number of investigations into Covid related deaths among NHS staff, according to the medical journal the BMJ. An independent public inquiry is due to start next Spring to hear evidence on many of these issues. While the inquiry is welcome, there are still concerns of inadequate or incorrect PPE being used. If your employer has failed to provide adequate PPE and this has caused you to contract Covid you may be able to claim compensation. Shoosmiths has a number of experts who can help in this regard.

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