All health and social care staff potentially in contact with Covid-19 patients should be provided with FFP3 respirators in order to mitigate the increased risks from new strains of coronavirus, an industry body has said.
As little is known about how infectious new virus variants are and whether there are differences in how they are transmitted, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) said more stringent requirements for respiratory protection should be considered.
It recommended FFP3 masks and powered respirators, which offer better comfort and fit for those working long shifts.
Powered respirators are also recommended for intensive care staff, where aerosol-generating procedures are likely, and finding masks that fit appropriately can be difficult.
It was also concerned that staff were being given Fluid Resistant Surgical Masks (FRSM), which are designed to reduce the risk of exhaled particles, as PPE by some healthcare employers. BOHS reminded organisations that FRSM is not designed to be PPE and offers only very limited reduction in exposure risk to the wearer.
Finally, with evidence suggesting that the new mutations were more infectious among children than previous Covid variants, the BOHS suggested that protection measures in schools should be reviewed.
It said education settings should consider issuing FFP2 respirators to staff in contact with children, such as teachers, teaching assistants and school support workers.
Many schools currently remain closed to all but the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.
BOHS president Kelvin Williams said: “The basic science behind our guidance continues to be valid and the new mutations, while concerning, do not cause us to have a rethink. However, we are aware that in some areas, particularly in healthcare, sufficient precautions may not be in place.
“It is really important that the right level of protection is provided to workers in the face of these more infectious versions of the virus. We can’t afford to be complacent.”
BOHS reminded organisations to review its guidance for Covid-19 infection control, which includes advice on spotting a fake respirator and return to work issues.