Protecting the protectors
ER24’s emergency response teams can’t provide the invaluable services they deliver without first-rate personal protective equipment. A staggering amount of thought and effort goes into keeping these teams protected,“ right down to the understanding that the better a uniform looks, the better it works
No matter what industry you’re in, there’s always some sort of equipment you need. In the industries SHEQ MANAGEMENT serves, this invariably includes personal protective equipment (PPE). But accidents happen – and when they do, emergency medical response services such as those offered by ER24 are vital.
Paramedics have their own unique PPE requirements. As ER24’s Peter van der Spuy, general manager, quality and support services, points out: “Our guys deal with issues and respond to calls at all times, but I always like to think of how protective equipment will protect them in high-risk situations.”
To fulfil this goal, the value of PPE is entrenched in ER24’s culture. “It’s a set mandate; we don’t take any chances,â€? says Van der Spuy. “There’s a big emphasis on quality, too.”?
To ensure that PPE is entrenched in its culture, ER24 follows strict guidelines and operates in accordance with local and international policies. “We have stern operational policies and procedures, especially around the utilisation of protective clothing,” says Van der Spuy, adding that ER24 is fully compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. “We’re very stringent about the effective use of PPE,”? he says.
When it comes to emergency medical services (EMS) clothing, the company also strives to work in accordance with an international specification under the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It uses many of the NFPA Act of 1999 guidelines as its benchmark.
“We also have a rigid issue and inspection process,â€? says Van der Spuy. “Everybody is equipped with all relevant PPE the moment they take up their duties. This includes helmets, gloves, flight suits, jackets and so on…“ and everybody has to have their relevant equipment with them at all times when on duty.”
The inspection procedure makes use of the web-based Work Trainer OHS Act system employed by ER24, which provides all staff with access to the company’s full OHS programme, including all compliance requirements relevant to the industry, relevant documentation and clear explanations.
Specialised units may require rope-access or off-road response equipment, but standard-issue equipment includes: 65/35 cotton/polyester-mix flight suits that are suitable for all areas and allow for breathability and repeated washing, ankle-high steel-toe or composite-cap boots, rain-protective jackets, reflective vests, SABS-approved helmets with a four-point attachment harness, latex and non-latex gloves, transparent goggles (heavier-duty goggles for use where there is a risk of flying metals, as when the Jaws of Life are used) and high-visibility apparel. All uniforms are designed to be clearly visible day and night.
Van der Spuy emphasises the importance of visibility: “The EMS teams have lost quite a few members to accidents caused when people drive into a scene“ despite all the traffic calming measures we put in place. We make every effort to be as highly visible as possible.”?
He adds that, as an aid to PPE, vehicles are parked to form a deflective barrier and prevent other vehicles from driving onto a scene. The vehicles’ lighting and appropriate reflective branding further supports the visibility objective.
An important consideration is to have PPE with minimal possible snag points – heavy clothing can be cumbersome when working in confined spaces, and can hinder the effective management of a patient. “We’ve tried to keep the equipment as streamlined as possible, keeping in mind that we are trying to optimise and maximise all relevant protection,”? says Van der Spuy.
He notes that PPE must be as comfortable and user-friendly as possible since it is worn for long periods at a time“ and looking good helps! “It’s important to make it an attractive type of uniform,â€? says Van der Spuy. “If the paramedics think they look good and feel good, they buy into the whole process of using protective clothing.”?