Hamilton Hospital first to implement mask fit testing in the south west

CAPTION: WDHS Chief Executive, Rohan Fitzgerald with Registered Nurse Belle , discuss a new N95 mask fit testing program to help minimise the risk of staff contracting COVID-19.

With an alarming number of healthcare workers across the state testing positive to COVID-19 in the latest wave, WDHS has moved to implement a mask fit testing program to protect frontline staff.

For N95 masks to offer maximum protection, it is essential that they fit correctly and achieve a tight seal on the face.

WDHS Chief Executive, Rohan Fitzgerald says with 3,240 healthcare workers in Victoria testing positive to COVID-19 since March, the Health Service is keen to do everything it can to protect its workforce.

“During COVID-19 we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of healthcare workers requiring N95 respirators. Many are using them for the first time and it’s important that they are fitted with the model and size that provides the best seal for their face.

There are growing calls from peak medical bodies including the Australian Medical Association and Australian College of Anaesthetists for more rigorous fit testing practices in healthcare settings.

The Victorian government is also currently conducting a fit testing trial at Northern Health, but as an organisation we felt it was important to move quickly on this issue, to minimise risks and reassure staff,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

To facilitate the testing WDHS purchased a PortaCount device this week, which will measure leakage around the face seal and produce a numerical result called a ‘fit factor’. The machine, valued at $22,000 is part of a new respiratory protection program that will support staff to minimise their exposure to COVID-19.

Registered Nurse Tam Phillips, who for several years conducted qualitative mask fit testing for industry through the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) AgriSafe program, says currently healthcare workers ‘fit check’ every time they put a mask on, but a ‘fit test’ ensures they are using the right mask in the first place.

“The benefit in providing quantitative fit testing using this device is that it eliminates the guesswork and subjectivity of how well an N95 seals to the skin, as the testing is objective and provides numeric data called a ‘fit factor’ This is the most accurate way of testing how well a N95 respirator fits.

She says fit tests are recommended for first time use and should be repeated annually, or when a new style or brand of mask is released and where there is a significant risk of exposure to infectious airborne particles.

“In order for N95 respirators to provide the expected level of protection it needs to be firstly ‘fit tested’ by a trained Fit Testing Operator and then ‘fit checked’ by the wearer each time it is worn. 

Fit testing is one of a number of strategies used to minimise the risk of healthcare workers getting the virus.  Fit checking also plays an important role and is performed by healthcare workers every time they put on a P2/N95 respirator to ensure a facial seal is achieved.

WDHS is committed to the health and safety of its staff and fit checking and now fit testing practices will provide our team with higher levels of assurance about not catching COVID-19 at work,” Mrs Phillips said.


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