PPE in These Unprecedented Times

Zac Noble 2020 Q2

During a global pandemic, personal protective equipment is hard to find—and still critical.

What a difference a month makes. Not long ago, many of us in my neck of the woods were counting the days until spring break, ready to cast away winter in favor of the great outdoors and warming temperatures. But then, on March 11, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, signaling a global health crisis and putting a clamp on both the present and the immediate future.

With so many people remaining at home, the crisis has had some obvious effects on the aviation industry, including reduced operations. But there’s another, perhaps less-recognized concern.

Mike Sagely of the Los Angeles County (California) Fire Department demonstrates the new normal of PPE for pilots.

Most of ROTOR’s readers know I’m an active A&P mechanic. Like many in our profession, I try to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when I’m working on an aircraft. That includes a stash of Band-Aids and latex gloves. 

Recently, I went to my favorite local mechanic’s store to buy a box of latex gloves. I like the 7 mil variety in XL. They’re not so thick that I can’t feel a cotter pin or handle a small bolt, and they’re durable enough to avoid tearing before I get the job done. 

When I got to the aisle in the store where my favorite gloves are normally stocked, guess what? That’s right, no gloves. In their place was a sign saying the store had donated all their latex gloves to the local hospital. Indeed, not a store in my area had mechanic-grade latex gloves. So, I did what we all do these days—I went on Amazon to order some, only to find there were none to be had in the grade I wanted for anyone but government agencies or health-care workers. 

This shortage presents a problem because practically all the industrial world uses PPE daily, including mechanics/engineers of all disciplines, painters, agriculture workers, factory workers, exterminators, restaurant workers, janitors, and so on. All these segments of our economy may lack access to proper PPE for the coming months as everything is routed to the health-care industry. 

While many people around the world are working remotely, aircraft must be fixed up close and personal (even Captain Kirk had to send Scotty to fix things sometimes). You might even have to have a fellow mechanic help with a task, putting you in close contact with someone while we’re all trying to follow social-distancing guidelines. A mask and gloves, if available, can help protect you and your comrades in these circumstances. 

If you’re fortunate enough to still have PPE available, be sure to take care of it to get the absolute most out of it before you’re forced to discard it. Nonprotective equipment, too, requires extra attention during the pandemic.

Shared tools should be wiped down and disinfected before and after every use. The cockpit is a particularly hostile environment, as many of its surfaces are touched repeatedly by pilots and crew members. Flight controls, seats, restraint systems, avionics (especially touch screens), doors, handles, etc. should all be disinfected before and after each use. Don’t forget your work stands, ladders, and hangar door handles. Yes, it’s that bad.

Many locations, such as where my son works as a professional aircraft mechanic, are taking measures to mitigate risk that include performing body-temperature checks prior to permitting people to occupy group settings. As of this writing, it was still unclear whether temperature checks were an effective tool for determining one’s potential for spreading COVID-19, as many reports note that a person can be a carrier of the virus while exhibiting no symptoms. 

Working safely in our industry is always important, but in these unprecedented times, we need to take extra precautions to operate as safely as we can. That means being as sterile as conditions will allow. And always keep Band-Aids on hand … as long as you can get them. If you ain’t bleedin’, you ain’t mechanicin’!

Fugere tutum!

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