PPE Eyewear: A Balancing Act of Worker Protection, Cost Mitigation and Waste Reduction
July 15, 2022
Mounting evidence of infection transmission through the eyes points to the need for more frequent use of eye protection in healthcare environments.1 But adding to Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) protocol introduces costs to healthcare organizations struggling with budgets after an extremely trying period for the healthcare economy.
Properly protecting workers and reducing the financial and environmental impacts of using more PPE relies on reusable solutions that perform well. As healthcare agencies introduce stricter standards, purchasing departments will seek high-value protective and comfortable healthcare eyewear that helps defend workers against fluid exposure and airborne biological threats.
Infection Transmission Through the Eye
For more than a century, researchers have studied and agreed on the likelihood of contracting disease via the eyes. The ocular surface area is both open to airborne droplet deposits and is large, compared with the surface of the mouth and nostrils.2 A landmark paper during the 1918 flu epidemic presented the possibility of viral droplets traveling the lacrimal-nasal pathway, from the eye to the nose to the lungs or gut.2
Following evidence of potential airborne dangers, surgeons and other front-line workers in healthcare used the earliest versions of protective eyewear as defense from body fluid sprays during trauma.3 Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes the importance of designating eyewear specific to the level of hazard in work tasks and environments.4
Although not all airborne pathogens are able to flourish in the body after eye contact, unprotected eyes can receive various problematic or even deadly illnesses. Flu viruses generally primarily affect patients’ respiratory systems, while adenoviruses, which are highly contagious and cause symptoms including pink eye, can have more damaging ocular effects.1
Researchers continue to present evidence that supports the need for more eye protection in healthcare settings. The CDC outlines several viruses and bacteria, including herpes simplex and Staphylococcus aureus, that can cause conjunctivitis as well as viruses that can cause systemic infections, including hepatitis B and C viruses and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).4
Compliance Struggles and Recent Cases
Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC made updates in 2021 to include healthcare worker eyewear recommendations for people who work in “areas of substantial to high transmission”, which refers to U.S. geographic locations with higher documented disease contraction rates.5
The universal use of healthcare eyewear has struggled to gain traction and growth. Even during a dangerous pandemic, doctors declined to use protective eyewear. Results from a hospital survey conducted in 2020 showed that a relatively high number of surgeons opted against using PPE eye protection during cancer surgeries. Their reasons for non-compliance included discomfort, poor visibility and frequent fogging.6
The COVID-19 pandemic further illuminated the potential of contracting coronavirus through the eyes. Early cases in physicians treating patients during the onset of the pandemic documented optical abnormalities that transformed into fatal COVID-19 infections and suspected transmission of COVID through the eyes of physicians who were otherwise protected with full-body PPE.1
Safer Measures, Stronger Guidance
Healthcare organizations and regulatory agencies continue to slowly upgrade guidance based on findings of workplace threats. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) PPE recommendations are clear regarding eye barriers against blood and other bodily fluids that can become airborne from spatter or contaminate surfaces and healthcare products. But the agency is still evaluating a recommendation for eyewear in areas with potential microscopic airborne threats.
Cost and Waste Reduction with Reusables
As part of healthcare’s “conventional capacity strategy” for PPE during times with typical volume and supply, the CDC still recommends eye protection and incorporates guidance for reusable eyewear.5 As PPE protocols call for increased protection, purchasing leaders with hospitals and other healthcare facilities will be looking for additional ways to cut costs.
Healthcare’s rebound from the pandemic’s financial strain will take time. Transitioning unnecessary disposables to reusable products—along with cleaning and disinfecting protocol—might ease some cost burdens and reduce facilities’ contribution to the growing problem of medical waste.
The World Health Organization reported recently on the global healthcare industry’s inadequate ability to manage waste and recycle where possible. COVID-19 made healthcare PPE waste issues even more evident and forced leaders to look deeper at ways to alleviate negative environmental impacts.7 Getting waste levels under control is possible, with concerted efforts by healthcare systems and supply chain to build procedures and protocol—one product category at a time.
Cleaning and disinfecting protective eyewear are relatively straightforward processes that allow medical departments to avoid the increased waste associated with disposable eyewear. Cost-per-use also decreases with a reusable eyewear program that incorporates proper donning, doffing, care and storage procedures.
Honeywell’s entire PPE eyewear line for healthcare is essentially reusable. Even our low-cost SVP and UltraSpec products can be disinfected for multiple uses; although, at times clinicians prefer to dispose of products after patient contact.
Honeywell’s experience in workplace PPE makes us well-positioned to offer a variety of eye protection appropriate to hazards in different healthcare environments. Our key customer questions quickly help us decipher what’s right for every organization.
For healthcare organizations looking for ways to cut costs and waste wherever possible, Honeywell’s line of healthcare eyewear boasts an array of reusable options for multiple environments. With the right disinfection protocol, any location can make a smooth transition.
6 Compliance and perception about personal protective equipment among health care workers involved in the surgery of COVID-19 negative cancer patients during the pandemic; Gagan Prakash, Preethi Shetty, Shivakumar Thiagarajan, et al.; J Surg Oncol. 2020;122(6):1013-1019; doi:10.1002/jso.26151