RPE in pregnancy
Pregnancy can be a wonderful, exciting, joyous, magical and terrifying time, all at once.
While most women continue working throughout a large portion of their pregnancy; doctors may advise you to avoid or minimise certain workplace activities for the sake of your and your baby’s health. But is using a respirator one of them?
In this blog, we explore some of the frequently asked questions we get asked around respiratory protective equipment (RPE) usage and pregnancy.
If you are expecting, there are many things you’ll have been advised to avoid: alcohol, smoking, strenuous exercise… But depending on where you work and what you do, there may be some workplace activities you should also avoid.
Speak with your Line Manager, or visit your Health & Safety Department.
When you’re ready to, you should let your Line Manager and/or Health & Safety Department know. They should be able to consult or undertake a Risk Assessment of tasks performed in your role and let you know of any tasks you should be excused from while pregnant.
It’s worth checking up with them semi-regularly, as certain tasks may become harder to perform during the course of your pregnancy.
But what about RPE?
Can I wear a respirator when pregnant?
A 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) compared the oxygen levels, temperature, blood pressure and heart rates of 22 pregnant respirator users (and their fetuses) against 22 non-pregnant respirator users to see if there were any notable ill-effects of respirator usage for pregnant women.
When testing both groups wearing a respirator for one hour, the results showed that there were “no significant differences” between either groups, nor was there a difference seen in the fetal heart rate when measure with or without the mother wearing a respirator.
It is worth noting however, that wearing a tight-fitting respirator may make it harder to breathe. As pregnancy can also make it harder for you to breathe (particularly in later months), be sure to take it easy, assess yourself and let your Line Manager know if you’re feeling unwell or unable to carry on.
Can I be fit tested?
In the UK there are two main approved methods of fit testing – the qualitative (taste) method, and the quantitative (particle counting) method.
Qualitative fit testing involves the subject wearing their respirator and having a large testing hood placed over their heard while they undertake a series of ‘exercises’ whilst having a challenge agent (usually Bittrex) sprayed into the hood. If the subject tastes the substance through their respirator the test is failed.
Quantitative fit testing has the wearer undertake the same ‘exercises’ whilst their respirator is attached to a particle counting machine that measures the number of particles inside the respirator compared to those outside.
While the Bittrex challenge agent is not harmful for pregnant women, and the quantitative test does not involve consuming any foreign substances; there are two factors worth considering.
- One study saw that people undertaking the qualitative method are subject to higher levels of carbon dioxide and lower levels of oxygen whilst wearing the testing hood. While not normally a concern, the researchers concluded that certain groups, including pregnant women, may be more sensitive to this method of testing.
- Both methods of fit testing require the user to perform extended (gentle) exercises; with the quantitative method also requiring the user to step or cycle throughout. Depending on where you are in your pregnancy this may be uncomfortable or even unmanageable. If so, please make your fit tester aware and they can suitably adapt the test.
Do I need to be re fit tested?
If you’ve already been fit tested recently on the respirator you use – probably not.
Although it is recommended that people who undergo extreme weight-loss or weight-gain should be re fit tested to ensure their respirator choice still fits; weight-gain during pregnancy is unlike normal weight-gain in both substance and the way that it is distributed around your body.
A separate study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (2015), assessed the cephalon-facial anthropometrics of 15 pregnant women alongside 15 non-pregnant women to compare respirator fit and face-shape change over the course of pregnancy.
They concluded that a woman of normal BMI who is gaining weight according to the recommended pregnancy weight-gain guidelines should not undergo extreme face-shape changes that would warrant a repeat fit test.
However, all people are different.
If you would like to be re fit tested for peace of mind, please speak with your Line Manager.
If you have further questions on RPE usage in pregnancy or any other matter, please contact our RPE experts today.