Are Respirators with Exhalation Valves Effective?
by Katie Palmer 1/4/2021
Respirators with Exhalation Valves
With the shortage of respirators, it might be tempting to have your dental or healthcare employees use respirators with exhalation valves. However, in a webinar about OSHA respiratory protection programs, Smart Training’s Vice President of Healthcare, Lee Slaton, told Practice Owners not to use respirators with exhalation valves.
This blog post explains why your dental or healthcare employees should not wear respirators with exhalation valves.
What is the exhalation valve?
Some respirators include an exhalation valve that opens to allow exhaled air to escape through the valve. The exhalation valve closes to force inhaled air through the filter. Exhalation valves include a membrane that sits on top of a support structure, and lies beneath a plastic cover.
Respiratory Protection vs. Source Control
To understand why respirators with exhalation valves should be avoided in your dental or healthcare practice, we need to understand the difference between respiratory protection and source control.
Respiratory Protection: Respiratory protection protects the wearer. Respiratory protection usually refers to respirators, including N95 or KN95 masks. These “masks” filter the air that the wearer breaths in, protecting the wearer from harmful aerosols, including COVID-19. N95 respirators filter at least 95% of particles of all sizes from inhaled air.
Source Control: Masks, unlike respirators, do not reduce the airborne hazards that the wearer will inhale. They protect the people around the wearer. Masks reduce the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the spread of respiratory droplets. They act as a barrier to help prevent large respiratory droplets from traveling when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice.
A respirator with an exhalation valve does not provide source control.
Respirators with exhalation valves provide respiratory protection, but not source control. This means that when an employee is wearing the respirator with an exhalation valve, the employee is protected, but patients are at risk if the employee has the virus.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention writes, “If you only have a respirator with an exhalation valve available, cover the exhalation valve with a facemask (surgical or procedure mask) that does not interfere with the respirator fit.” Be aware: wearing a mask over a respirator makes it much more challenging for employees to breathe. Your best best is to avoid respirators with exhalation valves, and selected NIOSH-approved respirators without exhalation valves.
Are your employees wearing respirators?
Some States have temporary COVID-19 laws that require dental and healthcare employees to wear respirators. If your employees wear respirators, your practice is required to abide by the OSHA respiratory protection standard.
Let’s review the five essential items required in OSHA’s mandatory respiratory protection program:
- A written respiratory protection program that’s site-specific for your office
- A named administrator of the practice’s respiratory protection program
- Documented training for all employees on the safe and effective use of respirators
- Medical evaluations for all users wearing respirators, whether on an elective or required basis
- Fit testing for all users who are required to wear respirators
Does your practice need help with your respiratory protection program?
If your practice is behind the curve on implementing the mandatory OSHA written safety program, Smart Training can help. Smart Training implemented its own “Operation Warp Speed” to create the first fully-compliant Respiratory Protection Program for dental practices in the country.
While most dental practices were shut down in March and April, Smart Training worked overtime to create the program knowing practices would need it when they re-opened. This program is now a part of Dental Platinum+ clients, Dental Essentials clients, and Complete Medical Compliance compliance offerings. These compliance packages also cover the other written safety programs OSHA requires for dental and medical practices.