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Breathing Easy – Reusable Respirators a More Sustainable Option

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Fraser Health’s switch to reusable respirators leads to a sustainable solution

Sustainable health care practices aren’t luxurious; they are often a natural and necessary solution. Fraser Health discovered this early in the COVID-19 pandemic when they began deploying reusable respirators to combat the shortage of disposable N95 respirators.

In 2020, increased use of disposable N95 respirators for patient care resulted in worldwide supply shortages. In Fraser Health alone, N95 use increased by 25 per cent—an increased demand that they soon could not maintain through disposable masks alone. One of the ways Fraser Health addressed this shortage was informed by a 2013 Workplace Health and Safety feasibility study on the practical considerations for deploying reusable respirators, in this case Elastomeric Half Face Respirators (EFHRs), in pandemic or outbreak situations. Guided by the report, Fraser Health deployed EFHRs across its units.

The widespread adoption of EFHRs had a major impact in reducing personal protective equipment (PPE) waste. In 2021, Surrey Memorial Hospital Intensive Care Unit and High Acuity Unit deployed 197 EFHRs and used 69,000 fewer disposable N95s, or a 68 per cent decrease over 2020 disposable N95 usage.

In addition to a substantial reduction in N95 waste, the use of EFHRs also brought comfort and security to Fraser Health staff. Staff reported feeling reassured that the appropriate respiratory protection was available. Additionally, many felt that their EFHR was more secure than a disposable N95. EFHRs continued to be used across Fraser Health, providing their staff with a secure and stable supply of respirators.

Though the deployment of EFHRs was made from necessity, maintaining a robust supply of essential respiratory protections and reducing PPE waste are both priorities moving forward. Surrey Memorial Hospital Health and Safety hopes to evaluate their reusable respirator program and explore new or alternate EFHR models that increase the wearer’s comfort and ability to communicate. They also hope to provide additional resources and education during annual fit testing sessions, ensuring that safe, sustainable and comfortable equipment is available to staff for a long time to come.