Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, health care systems faced an urgent need for life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) for their health care workers. The explosive increase in demand for such products created shortages, even with a significant increase in production, and necessitated the reuse of items that weren’t designed to be cleaned or decontaminated. The female-led 3M Global Respirator Decontamination Team sprang to action, tackling the need to evaluate decontamination methods of 3M disposable respirators and hoods. As a result of their tremendous work, the team has been awarded the prestigious Global Team Leadership Award by the Society of Women Engineers.
The team collaborated with external decontamination equipment manufacturers to analyze the effect of decontamination methods on the filtration and fit of 3M disposable respirators. These partnerships with leaders in health care decontamination allowed the team to test more than 35 decontamination methods to find the most safe and effective processes.
In a period of just two weeks, the team evaluated respirator filtration and fit performance, and generated data needed to support two of the first FDA Emergency Use Authorizations. The team also conducted hundreds of experiments to determine optimized wiping methods for reusable respirators, safety eyewear, PAPR hoods and face shields. This data and information were compiled into detailed reports that were shared with health care facilities to help ensure the safety of their staff. And after a total of three weeks, the team developed the first technical bulletin providing respirator manufacturer guidance on respirator decontamination.
“The impact this global team had in aiding the protection of many of the world’s 59 million health care workers via the use of effective 3M PPE decontamination methods is incredible,” says Rodney Hehenberger, Vice President and Technical Director, Personal Safety Division. “They navigated a complicated global regulatory landscape and provided clarity during chaotic times. This team stepped up to the plate to provide vital instructions for health care organizations and the public to develop their own strategies for respirator conservation.”
Achieving decontamination without affecting the performance of the PPE has been a crucial process for front-line workers during the pandemic. 3M is proud of this international team for coming together to deliver outstanding engineering contributions and innovative problem-solving to overcome the decontamination of PPE challenge during the pandemic.