In today's fast-paced world, where the air we breathe is often laden with pollutants and harmful particles, safeguarding our respiratory health has become more important than ever. Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) plays a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being of workers in various industries, from construction sites to healthcare facilities. However, simply donning a mask is not enough; proper maintenance and cleaning are essential to keep these vital pieces of equipment effective and hygienic. In this guide, we delve into the importance of cleaning RPE in line with AS/NZS 1715 standards and provide actionable tips to ensure your mask remains a reliable guardian of your respiratory health.
Different occupations have different levels of airborne contamination, mining and tunneling are great example of having higher than normal dust levels, these environments would result in the need to implement a cleaning process post shift.
Understanding AS/NZS 1715 Recommendations
AS/NZS1715 is the Australian and New Zealand Standard for Selection, Use, and Maintenance of Respiratory Protective Equipment. This standard provides guidelines for the selection of appropriate RPE based on workplace hazards, as well as instructions for their proper use, maintenance, and storage. Adhering to these standards is crucial not only for compliance but also for ensuring the efficacy and longevity of your RPE.
The Importance of Cleaning Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
Imagine wearing a mask that's not only uncomfortable but also harbors bacteria, mold, and other harmful contaminants. Not a pleasant thought, right? Unfortunately, neglecting to clean your RPE can lead to precisely that scenario. Dirty masks not only compromise their effectiveness in filtering out hazardous particles but also pose serious health risks to the wearer. From respiratory infections to skin irritations, the consequences of wearing unclean RPE can be far-reaching. Moreover, in the current global context, where infectious diseases pose a constant threat, maintaining the hygiene of RPE is paramount for preventing the spread of illnesses.
It really cannot be stressed enough that your RPE can only provide its maximum intended protection in the face of hazardous airborne contamination when properly cleaned, maintained, and stored.
Cleaning your respiratory protective equipment is a must.
Regularly changing filters is extremely critical to ensure your respirator provides its maximum intended protection. No ones filters should ever look like this. You can read more about appropriate filter selection for recognised hazards here.
Cleaning in Line with AS/NZS 1715 and Manufacturer Recommendations
So, how exactly should you go about cleaning your respiratory protective equipment in accordance with AS/NZS 1715 and manufacturer recommendations?
Here's a step-by-step guide:
Preparation: Before cleaning your respiratory protective equipment, ensure you're in a clean and well-ventilated area. Gather the necessary cleaning supplies, including soap or mild detergent, warm water (no greater than 40°C)), and a soft brush or cloth.
Disassembly (if applicable): If your mask consists of multiple components that can be detached, such as filters or valves, carefully remove them according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Hand Washing: Fill a basin with warm water and add a small amount of mild detergent. Submerge the mask and gently scrub it with a soft brush or cloth, paying special attention to areas where dirt and grime may accumulate.
Rinsing: Thoroughly rinse the mask under running water to remove any soap residue.
Drying: Allow the mask to air dry in a clean, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. Ensure all components are completely dry before reassembly.
Reassembly (if applicable): Once the mask is dry, reassemble any detached components according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Storage: Store your clean RPE in a clean, dry place away from contaminants and extreme temperatures. Avoid folding or creasing the mask, as this can damage its integrity.
Cleaning your RPE should be done after each use, it is also a good time to inspect your RPE for any damages or wear and tear during the process. We have a great example of neglected and damaged RPE below.
Large organisations can use a dedicated household clothes washer or dishwasher with a rack to securely hold facepieces in place to clean your respiratory protective equipment . Loose placement in a washer may cause damage due to the agitator. Keep in mind, water temperature should not exceed 40°C. This approach is particularly beneficial for large scale RPE programs. Alternatively, you can place facepieces in mesh bags before placing them in the washing machine.
Advantages Of Regular Mask Cleaning
Maintain peak performance of respiratory protective equipment or mask.
Prevent accumulation of bacteria, dirt, or dust.
Extend the lifespan of your mask.
Facilitate early detection of any damage or issues that could affect mask performance and user safety.
When To Disinfect Respiratory Protective Equipment
Disinfection is required if either or both of the following usage conditions are present:
The respirator or facepiece will be used by more than one person.
There is a chance of the respirator or facepiece being contaminated with biological materials.
Disinfection should be carried out after cleaning of the RPE. If the cleaning agent being used lacks disinfectant properties and disinfection is necessary, immerse respirator components in one of the following solutions for approximately two minutes:
Mix around 2 mL of laundry bleach into one litre of water at a temperature below 40°C to create a hypochlorite solution with 50 parts per million (ppm) of chlorine.
To make an aqueous solution of iodine with 50 ppm of iodine, add roughly 0.8 mL of tincture of iodine to one litre of water at a temperature not exceeding 40°C. Tincture of iodine contains 6–8 grams of ammonium and/or potassium iodide per 100 mL of 40% alcohol.
Use other commercially available cleansers of comparable disinfectant quality according to the respirator manufacturer's recommendations or approvals. Different cleaning methods are advised for resuscitators and medical masks. Always check for the latest information.
In the realm of workplace safety, respiratory health should never be taken lightly. By adhering to the guidelines outlined in AS/NZ S1715 and adopting a regular routine for cleaning your respiratory protective equipment, you not only safeguard your own health but also contribute to a safer and healthier work environment for all. Remember, a clean mask isn't just a piece of equipment; it's a shield designed to protect your lungs aiding you to breathe easy and tackle the day with confidence knowing you are safeguarded within hazardous environments. So, here's to cleaner air and healthier lungs – because when it comes to respiratory protection, every breath you take matters.
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