RR1201: Decontamination and re-use of FFP3 respirators

Disposable filtering facepiece respirators, of filtration type 3 (FFP3) are respiratory protective equipment (RPE) used by GB healthcare workers to protect themselves from airborne infection when carrying out aerosol generating procedures on COVID-19 positive patients. During the COVID-19 pandemic there was an international shortage of respirators. It is unclear whether disposable respirators that had been worn could be safely and effectively decontaminated and then re-used. This work seeks to establish this.

Five disposable FFP3 respirator models were exposed to 10 or 20 decontamination cycles with hydrogen peroxide vapour fumigation and compared to unexposed respirators of the same makes and models. Biological indicators placed within the material respirator layers, determined decontamination effectiveness. After each cycle, respirators were visually inspected for damage. Filter material percentage penetration and fit tests were performed to determine if the respirators could still protect the wearer.

Decontamination is effective; however, off-gassing (vapour released into the air from the respirator material that has been exposed to fumigant) was observed after fumigation, potentially exposing healthcare workers to hydrogen peroxide and leading to potential ill health. The filter material was not damaged by the decontamination process. Fit test varied by respirator, showing a reduction in fit test for some models.

Reusing decontaminated respirators could only be considered during times of a critical shortage of RPE supplies and would need approval from HSE.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive. Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2023-12-14