I think it would be safe to say that we have been told that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is intended to protect you from infections pathogens. Gloves are the most commonly used PPE item. We see healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, dentists etc.) wearing gloves. From a healthcare perspective the gloves work in two ways: they are intended to protect us as patients and of course protect the healthcare worker from picking up the bugs we carry. If you travel, you likely see the TSA officers wearing gloves, and if you’re astute enough you may also see the fact that their hands are sweating in the gloves, meaning they’ve had them on for most of their shift. In their case, they put them on with the belief they are protecting themselves from the germs we bring into the airport. In reality they really are just becoming a source for moving and most likely transmitting pathogens like colds and flus from all the surfaces they touch during the course of the time they are wearing gloves. Then there are the food service workers who put on the disposable gloves on before they make our sub. They change between customers, but do they wash their hands before putting on the next set? Did they take them off to ring in your order and take your money? Think on that.
A study published in the March 2019 Special Edition of The Journal of Hospital Infection looked at what role removing and disposing gloves has on contaminating the environment. In the study, the researchers observed three disposal methods: an underhanded throw or overhand throw into or towards the garbage bin and my personal favorite: pulling on the gloves to stretch and launch into or towards the garbage bin. When surveyed, none of the participating healthcare workers indicated they disposed their gloves by “flinging” and most indicated they “placed” them into the garbage bin. In practice, no one placed the gloves into the garbage bin. Most “tossed” them and missed getting their second glove into the garbage bin 50% of the time. The next favorite disposal method is the “fling” and that method led to a 40% success rate in getting the second glove into the bin.
When researchers sampled the area around the garbage bin, the vast majority of the sampled areas were contaminated by the gloves seeded with bacteriophage. In addition, the fluorescent dye used was found to extend outside of the sampled area and was widely found within a 0.61m circumference of the participant, as well as on their wrists, fingers and forearms. As expected, the “flight path” of the glove did show contamination, with the highest contamination directly around the garbage bin.
It has been well established that mixed policies from facilities or government, policy ambiguity and lack of in-depth training leads to workplace non-compliance with PPE protocols. In this study it was assumed that all healthcare workers that participated were aware of the CDC doffing protocol and were not using a personally devised protocol.
The long and the short is during the doffing of gloves, the environment and the healthcare worker can be contaminated. The question then becomes, if a healthcare worker (who undoubtedly at some point has had training on donning and doffing procedures for PPE and would certainly understand the potential impact on their health) can contaminate themselves and the environment so widely, what do you think is happening in industries outside of healthcare, where the training for donning and doffing likely does not take place?
It certainly makes me think of gloves in a different light and you can be sure I will be watching the doffing procedures for gloves. If “flinging” is involved I just may choose the exit as quickly as I can, and will certainly try to avoid touching surfaces and wash my hands at the first chance I get!