Overview

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, we’ve been inundated with requests from the healthcare sector demanding the supply of respiratory protection.

The highest level of performance is required when using a respirator. Disposable respirators (FFP3) or reusable half-masks (P3) can be suitable to help protect against the pandemic coronavirus. P3 filters are 99.95% efficient against solid and liquid toxic particles, radioactive particles and micro-organisms.

Challenges

Current NHS guidelines stipulate FFP3 or P3 face masks for virus and bacterial infection control when the contagion is spread through aerosol (coughs, sneezes etc).

According to Public Health England, the COVID-19: infection prevention and control guidance states; ensure that staff who are assessing or caring for suspected COVID-19 cases are familiar with an FFP3 respirator conforming to EN149, and that face fit testing has been undertaken before using this equipment.

If an individual cannot use an FFP3 respirator due to inadequate fit (following face fit-testing) or facial hair, then an alternative with equivalent protection (such as powered hood respirator) must be used.

Why aren't tight-fitting masks always appropriate

The most cost-effective respirator is a tight-fitting facemask but these are not always suitable for a number of reasons;

Firstly, NHS staff have been asked to shave their beards to allow respiratory masks to fit more securely in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus. However, in some trusts, staff with beards for religious or cultural reasons are exempt.  This makes a tight-fitting facemask unfit for purpose.

Secondly, if a face fit-test fails for using a tight-fitting respirator, again the alternative is a loose-fitting head top.

Thirdly, many healthcare workers have complained that the tight-fitting face masks are uncomfortable when worn for longer than 60 minutes at a time.

Solution

The NHS has been preparing itself for the pandemic by ordering respirators with the highest level of protection. It was their preference to find a respirator that overcame all of the challenges they're faced with.

Powered air respirators are the preferred type of respirator with several orders placed for the 3M Duraflow Readypak. The Duraflow is a  battery-powered respirator that sits on the wearer's waist connected to a hose that feeds purified air to the loose-fitting headtop.

Whilst these units are more expensive than tight-fitting respirable masks, they do have their advantages. They don't require a face fit-test, they can be worn with facial hair and because healthcare workers are carrying out their duties for the entirety of a shift, loose-fitting respirators can be comfortably worn.

Please Note: Masks are respirators are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.