covid 19 virus

COVID-19 – Personal Protective Equipment FAQ

Last revised reviewed:  8:18 a.m., April 20, 2021

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  1. What is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and how is it different from a non-medical mask (NMM) or face covering?
  2. Who needs to wear PPE at a workplace?
  3. What counts as eye protection?
  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 (NMM) 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
    • surgical masks with visor attachment
  • respirators
  • face shields
  • eye protection
    • goggles

A non-medical mask or face covering 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. Who needs to wear PPE at a workplace?

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  as well as their requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). 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.

Some sectors, such as health care, will require extensive PPE requirements. Others will require face coverings or non-medical masks with only some instances where PPE would be needed. For these workplaces, all staff must wear a face covering or non-medical mask in any indoor area accessible by the public, or in any staff only area where physical distancing of 2 metres cannot be maintained at all times, limited exemptions apply. However, the requirement to wear a face covering changes to a requirement to wear PPE for any staff member that is required to come within 2 metres of a person who is not wearing a face covering, and is not separated by an impermeable barrier. There are no exemptions for this requirement. The specific types of PPE required for your staff will depend on your occupational health and safety risk assessment. However, at a minimum a medical/surgical grade mask AND eye protection will be required to cover the mouth, nose, and eyes.

3. What counts as eye protection?

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 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: