covid 19 virus

COVID-19 – Personal Protective Equipment FAQ

Last revised reviewed:  3:38 p.m., July 9, 2021

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  1. What is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and how is it different from a non-medical mask or face covering?
  2. Should workers wear non-medical masks or PPE while at work?
  3. Why eye protection is needed?
  4. How is PPE classified in Canada?
  5. Who can sell PPE?
  6. How can I procure more PPE?
  7. How should I train staff to safely put on and take off their PPE?

1. What is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and how is it different from a non-medical mask or face covering?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) are items worn to provide a barrier to help prevent the wearer from potential exposure to infectious disease. These items include:

  • gloves
  • gowns
  • surgical masks or surgical masks with visor attachment
  • respirators
  • face shields
  • eye protection

A non-medical mask or face covering, otherwise known as a source control mask, is designed to protect others from infectious droplets, but may not necessarily protect the wearer. Click here to learn more from Public Health Ontario about non-medical masks.

2. Should workers wear non-medical masks or PPE while at work?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces are required to adhere to the Orders currently in force under the under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, their their requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), as well as any Order or Instruction from Peterborough Public Health. This means that employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers, including protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases. As COVID-19 is an infectious disease, workplaces must use the hierarchy of controls model to prevent any exposure to their workers. The decision to have workers wear non-medical masks or PPE will depend on an assessment of all relevant factors for each job at the workplace. When workers are performing tasks (either indoor or outdoor) that require them to work within 2 metres of another person who is not wearing a mask and without a barrier (for example, Plexiglas, partition, wall), then PPE is needed. For other jobs where workers can be protected with multiple controls (e.g., impermeable barriers, distancing of 2 metres), non-medical masks may be appropriate.

When PPE is deemed a necessary control to protect against COVID-19 in non-health care workplaces, workers (at a minimum) will need protection of the mouth, nose and eyes. This means that a medical grade mask that meets certification by Health Canada in addition to eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) will be required. Cloth masks or disposable non-medical mask are not suitable for use as PPE.

If you determine that PPE is needed in your workplace, you will need to:

  • train workers on the care, use and limitations of any PPE that they use (training resources below as part of FAQ #7)
  • maintain your supply of PPE and make sure it is readily available to workers when they need it

3. Why eye protection is needed?

COVID-19 is spread mainly from person-to-person through the respiratory droplets of someone infected with COVID-19. Respiratory droplets can travel up to two metres (six feet) through coughing, sneezing or talking and may also be transmitted when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes. A medical grade mask will provide protection to the mouth and nose, but eye protection is critical to protect the mucous membranes of the eyes. Use this COVID-19 guidance to choose the correct protective eyewear.

Many hardware stores, big box stores, and industrial supply stores carry the required products. There are many local retailers for these products.

4.  How is PPE classified in Canada?

Personal protective equipment sold for medical purposes are classified as medical devices in Canada. Under the Medical Devices Regulations these medical devices are categorized the following way:

  • Class I: masks, respirators, gowns, face shields
  • Class II: infrared thermometers, gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE) decontamination devices, syringes
  • Class III: ventilators
  • Class IV: SARS-CoV-2 testing devices

5.  Who can sell PPE?

There are different medical device authorizations depending on the role of the company (manufacturer, importer or distributor) and the class of medical device. Most of the PPE that you will need for your workplace are Class 1 devices, with the exception of medical gloves.

Class I medical devices can be imported or sold according to several mechanisms*, with the two more common mechanisms being:

  • the manufacturer or importer holds a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL)
  • the device is included in the List of authorized medical devices for uses related to COVID-19 (other than testing devices)

Class II medical devices (e.g. gloves) can be imported or sold according to several mechanisms*, where one common mechanism is:

  • the device is included in the Medical Devices Active Licence Listing (MDALL)
  • the device is included in the List of authorized medical devices for uses related to COVID-19 (other than testing devices)

*More information on additional mechanisms can be found at the Government of Canada’s website: Authorized medical devices for uses related to COVID-19: Overview

Authorized medical devices, MDEL holders or those who have received interim authorization are listed in one of the following lists or databases:

If the product or manufacturer is not listed in one of the above lists or databases, contact the supplier directly to obtain product details and their acceptability for distribution and use in Canada.

6.  How can I procure more PPE?

  • If your agency is associated and/or funded by an organization/Ministry, consult with your representative to discuss.
  • Review the Workplace PPE Supplier Directory | COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Ontario– it filters by products (masks, sanitization, eye protection, gloves etc.) ** Verify authorization for use in Canada before submitting an order, using the steps above.

7.  How should I train staff to safely put on and take off their PPE?

All staff must be trained on how to safely put on and take off their PPE. Use the resources below: