Personal protective equipment

Thank you for the hard work and care you are giving to keeping our community safe.  It is vital to tackling this pandemic and we appreciate all that you do. We understand that this is an unprecedented time but we know that you will continue to offer our patients the friendly and professional customer service we are known for.   

Collection Staff

Please find advice on personal protective equipment for our collection staff below. 

Laboratory Staff

Please find advice on personal protective equipment for our laboratory staff below. 

Advice on personal protective equipment (PPE)

We know that many health care workers come into contact with patients in whom COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed.

Wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) will help safeguard against infectious diseases and stop their spread. Please wear the right PPE so you remain healthy and strong during this time.

What is standard PPE?

Eye protection, gown and gloves.

Should I wear a mask in common areas?

Most people won’t benefit from wearing a face mask. Masks minimise the risk of sick people spreading infection by coughing or sneezing on others.  Masks are not required when carrying out routine ward rounds in non COVID-19 areas of the hospital. In these areas staff should continue wearing standard PPE.

Can I reuse face masks?

No, it is not safe and does not comply with infection control guidelines.

Should I have a shower before going home?

This is entirely optional as simple hand washing with soap and water is effective. Hand hygiene should be part of your daily routine, including before going home.

Can I bring home the infection on my work clothes?

Wearing standard PPE will protect your clothes. Follow standard hygiene practices - wash your clothes when you get home and wear clean clothes the following day.

What do I do if I run out of hand sanitiser at work?

Follow hand hygiene procedure and wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. This is very effective. You should not rely on hand sanitiser alone.

Do I need to wear PPE if I work in administration or customer service?

No, you don’t need to wear PPE and/or face mask as there is less chance you will come into close contact with suspect or confirmed cases. Practice social distancing and good hygiene practises. If you are dealing with the public, indicate where you require people to stand to ensure appropriate distancing.

Do I need to wear a mask if I am collecting pathology samples?

You may choose to wear a mask during standard collections. Masks can be used for routine collections for one day and then discarded.

You should wear a mask if you are collecting specimens while caring for our most vulnerable patents (eg immunocompromised patients, those suffering from chronic disease such as respiratory illness and cancer patients).

Masks must be discarded following the collection from a patient suspected of having COVID-19.

It is standard procedure to wear a surgical mask while collecting a nasopharyngeal swab to minimise droplet transmission from the patient.  You should also wear a long sleeved gown, gloves and protective eyewear/face shield. Nasopharyngeal swabs are currently performed at a limited number of NSWHP collection sites.

Should patients wear a mask?

If you are collecting a sample from a patient who has indicated or shows signs of flu like symptoms, the patient must be provided with a mask.

Should there be designated areas for pathology blood collectors to change in and out of PPE?

There is no need for a designated area. PPE stock should be available in every collection room/ward or on your blood collection trolley with appropriate waste disposal bags/bins. Follow correct doffing and disposal procedures in the location you are performing the collection.

Should I be performing Home Collections if a patient is in Isolation?

Follow the NSWHP Home Collections Policy and use the Risk Assessment Template which identifies risks and outlines the procedure if any risks are identified.

Can I catch COVID-19 from a C-19 swab that has leaked in the specimen bag?

COVID-19 specimens (swabs, urine or faeces) should not be coming to the laboratory via the tube system – they should be walked to the laboratory or central specimen reception for processing.

If you discover the swab has leaked into the specimen bag, place the specimen into a second bag and contact the relevant Microbiology/Serology/Virology Department who will process the sample. DO NOT OPEN THE LEAKING SPECIMEN BAG. 

Do I need to wear extra PPE if I’m working in a lab?

In the vast majority of laboratory settings normal PPE practice is adequate and should continue unchanged.

Safety advice when handling specimens

Do I need to wear extra PPE if I’m working in a lab and handling COVID-19 specimens?

Respiratory protective equipment such as masks or respirators are not generally necessary when handling blood (including blood gases) in the laboratory environment.

Do I need to handle specimens in a biological safety cabinet?

Aliquotting of serum/plasma specimens and urine is not an aerosol generating procedure and while a biological safety cabinet may be used, it is not required if appropriate PPE is worn.

Procedures with a high likelihood to generate aerosols, MUST be undertaken in a Class 1 (or Class II Type A1 or A2) biological safety cabinet.

All respiratory tract, faecal, fluid (including CSF) and tissue and fine needle aspirate specimens MUST be handled inside the biological safety cabinet. This is standard operating procedure requiring routine PPE.

A mask is not an appropriate substitute for a biological safety cabinet.   

Can I catch COVID-19 from blood, faeces, urine or sputum if I’m wearing gloves and a gown?

As with all specimen types there is an infectious risk. Blood and urine have been shown to contain very low viraemic loads. However, the risk is greatly minimised by wearing the right PPE and following standard operating procedures.

You can find more information including a series of videos you can watch here:

There are also posters you can download and print here:

Safety advice when transporting specimens

Should pneumatic tubes be used to deliver specimens? 

Download a copy of this advice here.  (PDF 135.2KB)

In the light of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, NSW Health Pathology (NSWHP) has reviewed the use of pneumatic tubes for the transport of patient samples between NSW public hospitals and NSW Health Pathology’s on-site laboratories.  This has been communicated to all Local Health Districts. 

Pneumatic tubes, properly used and maintained, remain safe for the carriage of ALL blood samples requiring transport between NSW public hospitals and on-site NSW Health Pathology labs.

Continued use of the pneumatic tube for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients

Blood samples collected from a patient who is a strongly suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 can be sent via the pneumatic tube in blood tubes in line with standard practice.

This is a respiratory virus spread and acquired by the respiratory route. It is not a blood borne virus.

Cessation of Pneumatic Tubes for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients

In line with the latest infection prevention and control guidance from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), NSWHP strongly recommends pneumatic tube not be used for the following samples from patient strongly suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19:

  • Swabs for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and respiratory virus testing
  • Other respiratory specimens
  • Other body fluids (due to poor container sealing issues)

This is to avoid the possibility of leakage in the pneumatic tube, which would then require decommissioning and cleaning before being returned to service.

These samples should be securely packaged up and hand delivered to the on-site NSW Health Pathology laboratory central specimen reception.

The latest CDC recommendation on pneumatic tube use for COVID-19 samples is available here:

What do I do if I find a specimen that has leaked in the specimen bag?

If you discover the swab has leaked into the specimen bag, place the specimen into a second bag and contact the relevant Microbiology/Serology/Virology Department who will process the specimen. DO NOT OPEN THE LEAKING SPECIMEN BAG.

How should I pack and transport COVID-19 samples to our designated NSWHP testing labs?

All our staff responsible for packing specimens for transport are fully trained and assessed in the packaging of pathology specimens, as per IATA 650 requirements.  COVID-19 specimens are classed as “Biological Specimens” Category B.

Refer to the NPAAC standard for Requirements for the Packaging and Transport of Pathology Specimens .

Our lab staff should pack these specimens (not limited to COVID-19) with triple packaging using the following components:

(a) a primary receptacle(s) – for COVID-19 specimens this is the UTM viral transport swab

(b) a secondary packaging – for COVID-19 specimens this is a clear biohazard bag

(c) a rigid outer packaging – for COVID-19 specimens this is an esky.

Our couriers then place the packaged specimens in either a singlet bag or esky for safe transfer to the vehicle. Once at the vehicle, the specimens are placed in the 12v fridge or chilled / refrigerated esky.

In the event a specimen does not meet the above packing requirements, couriers are advised to notify NSW Health Pathology laboratory staff onsite.


As we are all aware, there is increasing demand on medical consumables across all NSW Health facilities.

HealthShare has developed a number of strategies to efficiently manage stock levels and meet both current and future needs. This included the introduction of a centralised managed process for ordering face masks. This process (the hub system) has now being extended to other consumables.

Teams that require supplies above the capped volume due to higher demand from COVID-19 should submit their request with justification to for assessment. Once approved, the SHEOC team will work with HealthShare to assess the request and respond as soon as possible.