Avoid overheating in full PPE – how dental teams can stay cool

As the weather starts to get warmer, new PPE requirements will start to increase the likelihood of heat stress and overheatingMore PPE purchases, more breaks and more hydration – this is the advice of Public Heath England (PHE) for workplaces struggling to cope with the hotter weather in full PPE. 

As the weather starts to get warmer, new PPE requirements will start to increase the likelihood of heat stress and overheating.

And dental teams are no exception.

Following the release of the new standard operating procedure, dental teams across the UK are having to don more PPE than ever before.

All AGP treatments require dental professionals to wear a disposable, fluid-repellent gown or approved equivalent, alongside gloves and eye and face protection.

On top of this, an FFP3 mask should be worn by all staff involved in the treatment – and if unavailable, an FFP2 mask can be worn as an alternative.

Even non-AGPs require dentists to wear eye protection, fluid-resistant surgical masks, disposable aprons and gloves.

As a result, the incoming summer heat for many will be an unwelcome prospect for many.

Prepare for warmer weather

In 2018, nearly 50% of NHS hospital trusts reported at least one incident of overheating. And 8% of trusts reported more than 50 cases.

Increased levels of PPE escalates the risk of heat stress for a number of reasons. For example, it reduces the body’s ability to evaporate sweat and prevents heat loss.

It also takes away the scope for staff to remove clothing to adapt to the conditions of the working environment.

Public Health England (PHE) has unveiled measures to help workplaces cope as temperatures start to soar. It is encouraging teams to plan ahead to prepare practices for the warmer weather and avoid heat stress.

Heat stress occurs when the body fails to regulate its internal temperature. Air temperature, work rate, humidity and clothing can all contribute.

Top tips for staff

PHE preparation advice includes:

  • Assess the risk of overheating in your workplace and consider any control measures that could be used
  • Consider collective control measures first. For example, remove or reduce sources of heat where possible
  • Sign up to receive heat-health alerts from PHE and the Met Office
  • Consult England’s heatwave plan.

Additionally, it revealed top tips for staff:

  • Take regular breaks and find somewhere cool if possible
  • Keep hydrated. Checking your urine is a good way of checking – if it’s dark or strong smelling, more fluids should be consumed
  • Make yourself aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stress. These include a dry mouth, thirst, urinating infrequently, low concentration, fainting and muscle cramps
  • Don’t wait until you begin to feel unwell before a break is taken
  • Start a buddy system to look out for signs of heat stress in one another
  • Try to stay cool between shifts to allow your body to recover.

It also recommended that workplaces increase PPE supplies during the warmer months to prepare for staff changing more frequently.

Additionally, increased staffing levels may be necessary to accommodate the spike in staff breaks.

The full advice can be read here.

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