TB respirators may boost injury risk

A study of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) respirators found that the bulky, high-protective masks seem to increase the risk of sharps injuries.

The study, published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, focused on the use of HEPA respirators at seven acute care medical centers operated by Kaiser Permanente Southern California health maintenance organization. The authors assessed whether certain respirator designs could increase the risk of needlestick and sharps injuries.1

More than half (61%) of 92 health care workers interviewed about possible factors for their injuries stated that decreased visibility, communication, and range of motion "definitely" or "may have" contributed to their reported sharps injuries. Consequently, the authors set out to evaluate five respirators approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration prior to adoption of a new, more user-friendly type of respirator called N95.

The health care workers rated the HEPA respirators inferior to other masks for visibility, range of motion, and communication.

Although the study did not evaluate 95 masks, the authors tell TB Monitor that employers should examine them on individual workers to make sure they don’t impair their activities.


1. Eck E, Vannier A. The effect of high-efficiency particulate air respirator design on occupational health: A pilot study balancing risks in the real world. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 1997; 18:122-127.