For environmental health exposures, the use of standard precautions refers to general contact control practices that prevent contamination of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and clothing. These precautions should be observed when contact with potentially hazardous materials, body fluids, fecal material, and other environmental contaminants is a possibility. The following standard precautions should be used during environmental investigations:
When possible, the EH practitioner should try to avoid contact with a potential contaminant. This may require observance from a distance, or referral of the situation to a trained response professional.
- Wash hands with soap and water and dry with disposable towels after any potential contamination may have occurred.
- Hand washing must also be done before putting on (donning) PPE and immediately after removing (doffing) PPE.
- Hand washing should be followed with the application of hand sanitizer, if possible.
Examples of PPE Use for Environmental Health Investigations
- For most situations, the EH practitioner should wear work boots or heavy shoes, protective gloves (to protect against sharp objects or debris), and protective headgear, depending on the observed hazards.
- Disposable nitrile or latex-free exam gloves should be worn when there is a possibility of skin contact.
- Surgical masks or dust masks should be worn when there is a possibility of splash or dust entering the mouth or nose.
- Goggles, a face shield, or safety glasses should be worn when there is a possibility of splash, dust, or debris entering the eyes.
- A Tyvek® suit, disposable gown, and shoe coverings should be worn when there is a possibility of debris, dirt, or other hazardous substance causing contamination of clothing and shoes.
- A respirator (N95 or higher) may be worn for situations involving airborne particles, infectious disease organisms or mold spores. The use of respirators is regulated by OSHA Respiratory Standards (CFR 1910.134, Respiratory Protection). Prior to using a respirator for protection, the user must be properly trained, medically evaluated, and fit-tested. For lead or asbestos contamination it is recommended to use the reusable half-mask respirator with P100 filters, per OSHA Respiratory Standards (CFR 1910.1025, Lead, and CFR 1910.1001, Asbestos).
- Immediately after use, PPE must be removed and discarded in a leak-proof plastic bag. For most environmental investigations, PPE disposal in a biohazard container is not necessary.
- Other considerations: hearing protection, waders or rubber boots, a change of clothes, cell phone or portable radio, camera, ID with photo, and conducting the inspection with another “team” member or law enforcement personnel.
- Department of Health Services (DHS) Infection Control PPE webpage
- DHS Public Health Nurse Consultant public health nurse web-delivered courses: Human Health Hazards and Environmental Health
The investigation and assessment of human health hazards and nuisances that may be done by public health workers and environmental health (EH) practitioners will sometimes require the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect against potential exposures to environmental health hazards. While not all local health departments conduct environmental health hazard investigations, all public health workers and EH practitioners should be aware of the PPE requirements for these possible exposures, because ultimately, the local health officer is responsible for human health hazard abatement in his or her jurisdiction (DHS 140.04) as well as assuring the National Public Health Essential Services are implemented as described in Wisconsin Statute 250.03(10)(L).
All PPE used by EH and public health workers should be in accordance with the agency’s PPE Program (OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.32). Elements of the PPE Program include hazard assessment, appropriate PPE selection and assuring its use, training, and monitoring of the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness. (See PPE Program development page.) During human health hazard and environmental hazard investigations, a hazard assessment should also be done by conducting a walk-through survey of the areas in question. The purpose is to identify sources of hazards to workers and coworkers. The types of hazards EH staff may encounter include:
- Airborne dust or particles
- Liquid chemicals
- Particulate chemicals
- Other chemicals
- Unknown liquids, powders or substances
- Objects that can strike, pierce, crush or puncture
- Materials that might scrape, bruise or cut
- Loose or unstable materials overhead
- Rolling or falling objects
- Loud noises
- Dust, mists, vapors, splashes
- Excessive heat or cold
- Electrical hazards
Environmental health (EH) practitioners should become familiar with the types of PPE that may be required to protect against potential hazards encountered during human health hazard investigations, and should be aware of situations when the use of PPE is necessary. EH practitioners must also be able to determine when the PPE they have available is inappropriate and may not provide sufficient protection. OSHA standards on the specific types of PPE commonly used by EH and public health workers include:
- Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1910.133)
- Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134)
- Head Protection (29 CFR 1910.135)
- Foot Protection (29 CFR 1910.136) .
- Electrical (29 CFR 1910.137)
- Hand (29 CFR 1910.138)
- Ear (29 CFR 1919.195)
At a minimum, the investigation of human health hazards often requires the wearing of common PPE and protective clothing to protect feet (boots or heavy shoes), eyes (safety glasses), hands (safety gloves, disposable nitrile or latex-free gloves), body (Tyvek® suits or gowns), and head (hard hat). This gear may not be appropriate for all situations, but having access to this equipment will assure it is available when needed.
For situations involving chemical spills, hazardous materials, confined spaces, or criminal activity, EH practitioners and public health workers, unless specifically trained to respond to the type of incident observed, should refer the situation to a local fire department Hazardous Materials (Haz Mat) team, law enforcement officials, or the regional Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Chemical Spill Coordinator.
If you have any questions about the information on this page, email Ryan Wozniak at firstname.lastname@example.org.