Cleaning BA masks: machine vs. manual cleaning
Working by hand is not to be underestimated – but it’s not the best option for cleaning BA masks or regulators. With TopClean M from MEIKO the process is quicker, costs less – and most of all is more hygienic.
When on duty, firefighters have to rely completely not only on their colleagues but also on their equipment. The term ‘Sicherheitskette’ (EN ‘safety chain’) has been added to the German ‘Atemschutzlexikon’ dictionary:
The safety chain combines all actions, methods, tactics, equipment and appliances associated with the safe use of respiratory protection and, in extreme cases, make it possible to safely rescue the wearer of respiratory protection equipment by means of respiratory protection emergency rescue.
The safety chain includes all safety philosophy associated with respiratory protection during preparation for deployment, deployment itself 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 that certain hazardous situations can only be combatted by following certain processes, valid processes are a great help when cleaning personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, valid processes are not guaranteed in manual cleaning. Like many processes that are carried out by hand, manual cleaning is prone to error: incorrect dosing of the chemicals used, insufficient wetting of products, not enough application time – or too much application time, if you get distracted by another task in the middle of manual cleaning.
This is exactly what happened at Lahr fire service. The results: 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 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 of the parameters associated with the cleaning process (time, chemicals, mechanics, 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 the TopClean M and machine cleaning 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. In the midst of 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 at the time found that the BA masks had not been taken apart prior to being washed in a special drum washing machine with a detergent not recommended by the manufacturer and then subsequently checked. Ultimately, it appears that it was not possible to determine if all of 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 also 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 capacities of respiratory protective equipment technicians – in particular when they are charged with removing all traces of chemicals from the equipment they are tasked with cleaning.
If it takes an average of 4.5 hours to complete the cleaning and disinfection process manually for 4 BA masks, using TopClean can reduce this time by 60%. All that the technician has to do is to take the BA masks apart, place them into the baskets and subsequently put them back together and carry out standard checks. TopClean M does the rest, with programme cycle times of between 6 and 10 minutes. Up to 4 BA masks can be cleaned and disinfected simultaneously in next to no time. Or 8 regulators. Or 4 BA masks and 4 regulators.
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.’