Machine disinfection of breathing apparatus (BA) masks
Benefits of cleaning BA masks using a disinfection machine
Working by hand works great in some cases but it is not the best option for cleaning BA masks or regulators. With the MEIKO TopClean M, the process is quicker, cost less, and most of all, more hygienic.
When on duty, firefighters must rely completely not only on their colleagues but also on their equipment. The term ‘Sicherheitskette’ which means safety chain has been added to the German respiratory protection lexicon:
The safety chain combines all actions, methods, tactics, equipment, and appliances associated with the safe use of respiratory protection and, in extreme cases, makes it possible to safely rescue the wearer of respiratory protection equipment through respiratory protection emergency rescue.
The safety chain includes all safety principles associated with respiratory protection during deployment preparation, actual deployment, and post-processing. Breaking the safety chain can put the life of the person wearing respiratory protection equipment at risk.
The post-processing referred to above includes the cleaning of respiratory protective equipment. In the same way you can prevent certain hazardous situations by following certain processes, it also is important in cleaning personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, you cannot guarantee that validity of a manual cleaning process. Like many processes that you can perform by hand, manual cleaning is prone to error. There can be incorrect dosing of chemicals, insufficient wetting of products, not enough or too much application time if you get distracted by another task in the middle of the cleaning process.
This is exactly what happened at Lahr fire service. The BA masks were left in the cleaning bath much longer than they should have been. The softener in the rubber parts of the mask dissolved, causing black marks on the firefighters’ faces the next time they they used them.
According to the expert opinion of Prof. Walter Popp, Head of Hospital Hygiene at Essen University Hospital, following intensive testing, the ‘TopClean M delivers good cleaning and disinfection performance. (...) As a general rule, it is preferable to use a machine rather than manual methods to clean BA masks.’
- Unlike with manual cleaning, something like this cannot happen with the TopClean M. All the parameters associated with the cleaning process such as time, chemicals, mechanics, and temperature are predefined and run reliably.
- The integrated door locking ensures that the processes cannot be interrupted once the start button has been pressed.
- A built-in empty indicator ensures that cleaning cannot commence without sufficient chemicals.
‘Our previous manual process was reliable, of course. But machine cleaning with the TopClean M takes things to a whole new level by giving us a much more consistent and reliable process.
Thomas Happersberger, Commander of Lahr City Fire Service
If manual cleaning is not carried out under the correct conditions, users can be put at an even greater disadvantage: cleaning vapours can be inhaled, chemicals can damage the skin, and contaminated PPE can even harm those it is designed to protect.
By contrast, machine cleaning is completed in a closed system, i.e., inside the TopClean M. What this means above all is more safety and security for users, as they do not come into direct contact with the cleaning chemicals.
An article published in the German magazine ‘Der Sicherheitsbrief’ describes how a jammed inhalation valve in a BA mask stopped the air supply to a firefighter on active duty. During deployment, the firefighter tore the BA mask from his face and breathed in ambient air resulting in him being hospitalised.
The investigation into the processes carried out by the fire service’s accident investigators found that the BA masks had not been taken apart prior to being washed. The masks were put in a special drum washing machine with a detergent not recommended by the manufacturer, and were also not subsequently checked. Ultimately, it was not even possible to determine if all the valves had been checked.
So, a process that had not been approved was used. Aside from the injured firefighter, this situation also got a respiratory protective equipment technician into trouble.
Machine cleaning in the TopClean M means more safety and security for respiratory protective equipment technicians because the cleaning and disinfection process delivered by the machine is approved by leading BA mask manufacturers.
Another disadvantage of manual disinfection is that it takes up the valuable functions of respiratory protective equipment technicians, especially in removing all traces of chemicals from the equipment during cleaning.
If it takes an average of 4.5 hours to complete the cleaning and disinfection process manually for four BA masks, using TopClean can reduce this time by 60%. All that the technician must do is to take the BA masks apart, place them into the baskets, wait for the wash cycle to finish, put them back together, and carry out standard checks. TopClean M does the rest. With programme cycle times of between 6 and 10 minutes, you can clean and disinfect up to 4 BA masks, or 8 regulators, or 4 BA masks and 4 regulators, simultaneously in no time.
Olaf Fernys, who together with a colleague is responsible for cleaning 892 BA masks and 661 regulators at Leipzig's fire rescue headquarters, summarises all of these arguments quite simply:
‘It is not just about saving time; the improvement in safety and hygiene delivered by the TopClean M from MEIKO is more important.’