A case for Powered Air


Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) can be an essential means of protecting frontline healthcare workers from airborne hazards who deal with harmful airborne substances, viruses or infectious pathogens.


In the healthcare environment, there are two main methods of RPE used: tight-fitting RPE such as single-use filtering facepieces (FFP3), and loose-fitting RPE also known as Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR).


While many employees can be protected using tight-fitting RPE, this is not always the case.


The Problem

Tight-fitting respirators will not be suitable for your staff if they:

  • have facial hair,
  • have not had a face fit test,
  • cannot pass a face fit test on the model/s provided,
  • are unable to wear tight fitting RPE for medical reasons such as soreness or claustrophobia,
  • are requiring protection for extended lengths of time (over one hour), and/or
  • are facing a chemical hazard*.


* Some reusable tight-fitting half mask RPE can be equipped with chemical filters, but chemical filtration is not available for FFP3s.


The Risks

If RPE is required and a member of staff is using the incorrect equipment, or none at all, they could be put in considerable risk of long-term ill-health or even death.

Depending on the hazard, potential risks include:

  • Cross infection – from patients, and/or to patients,
  • Short-term conditions such as allergies, occupational asthma and anaphylactic shock,
  • Long-term respiratory conditions such as asbestosis, COPD and lung cancer, and/or
  • Legal litigation due to lack of duty of care to employees.


The Solutions

Several potential options are available, but only one offers 100% protection to staff.


Do nothing

Carrying on without offering RPE to everyone that needs it puts staff at risk and potentially leaves the organisation open to litigation.


Clean shaven policy

Facial hair can interfere with the fit of a tight-fitting respirator. HSE regulations state that an RPE wearer must shave no more than 8 hours before the start of a shift where they would be required to wear a tight-fitting respirator.

However, even if shaving is enforced in an organisation, you may still have staff unable to pass a fit test or those unable to shave for religious reasons.


Staff rotation

A third possibility is for managers to rotate staff in such a way that those who are unable to wear a tight-fitting respirator are not needed to do so.

This method however does not account for specialist skills, emergency situations and is extremely time-consuming to logistically organise and put into place.


Powered Air

Loose-fitting RPE such as PAPRs offer a universally fitting solution for those unable to wear a tight-fitting respirator due to not having passed a fit test or having facial hair.

Due to the constant supply of clean, filtered air to the user, PAPR devices can also be worn for extended periods of time and some models can additionally be equipped with different filters to protect against additional hazards such as chemicals.


Our Recommendation

While tight-fitting FFP3 respirators may be suitable for the majority of staff, a reasonable supply of loose-fitting PAPRs should be made available to offer protection for individuals unable to wear tight-fitting devices.


Full Support Healthcare have a range of PAPR devices available to meet your needs. Click here to find out more.


For more information on respiratory protection, RPE, and PAPR devices, get in touch and speak with one of our Fit2Fit accredited experts today.