Introducing an N95 safety fit tester
Bonnie Peacock is a one-woman army in the battle against COVID-19. At least, that’s the case when it comes to fitting staff and doctors across Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) with virus-blocking N95 respirator masks. These masks seal to the face to protect wearers from inhaling pathogens like the COVID virus.
“It has been consistently very busy.” — Bonnie Peacock, N95 safety fit tester
Peacock is HHS’ N95 safety fit tester, running rotating drop-in clinics at Hamilton General Hospital, Juravinski Hospital, McMaster University Medical Centre, St. Peter’s Hospital and West Lincoln Memorial Hospital. Every HHS health-care worker using a respirator mask must be fit tested every two years at the clinic, or sooner if there’s a change to the size or shape of their face due to, for example, a change in their weight.
“It’s really the perfect job for me because I’m a high-energy person who loves multitasking and staying busy,” says Peacock, adding, “I really love my job.”
Setting records for fit testing
HHS health-care workers needing masks for work are fit tested according to standards set by the Canadian Standards Association to ensure that their N95 provides the appropriate protection.
“If you’ve been fitted at one of our clinics, you can rest assured that your mask is doing its job,” says HHS safety manager Steve Jamieson.
Canadian hospitals use masks designated as N95 by the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which are considered the gold standard for health-care workers. Before the pandemic, N95 masks were worn by health-care workers most at risk of inhaling pathogens, such as respiratory therapists. But since COVID, many more health-care workers started using respirators for additional protection.
“Prior to COVID, a busy day for me was fitting eight to 10 people,” says Peacock, who is also the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) coordinator for HHS.
“I remember, at the time, thinking that I ran a busy fit testing clinic. But I sure don’t think that anymore.”
“It was an incredible learning opportunity to see these clinics in action.” — Fatima Sheikh, McMaster University student
Peacock’s new normal is anywhere from 25 to 40 fittings per day. “It has been consistently very busy.”
Her record is 87 fittings in one day. That was early in 2021 when McMaster University master’s student Fatima Sheikh was volunteering at the clinics. “I couldn’t have done those 87 fittings without Fatima,” says Peacock. “I got super lucky that she happened to be volunteering that day.” Sheikh was helping out and also collecting data for her thesis which studied N95 masks through an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) lens.
“It was an incredible learning opportunity to see these clinics in action,” says Sheikh, who is now working on her PhD in health research methodology. “We often don’t think about people behind the scenes who keep our health-care workers safe. I was amazed by Bonnie, who’s responsible for the safety of so many health-care workers at such a busy time.”
“Like a hug for your face”
Peacock’s favorite N95 includes the 1870 plus model. “It’s a beautiful mask because it fits almost everybody regardless of their face size, and it’s comfortable too. When it was first introduced, I explained to my team that it’s like a hug for your face.”
Most HHS health-care workers are fitted using the qualitative method. This involves being fitted with a mask by Peacock, then having a hood placed over their head and a mist sprayed into it. They do several exercises while wearing the hood, such as moving their head from side to side. If the wearer can’t taste the mist during these tests, then the mask fits properly and is doing its job.
This test works well for most health-care workers. But for those who can still taste the mist, further testing is needed so they’ll also do a quantitative test. It’s a more precise test that uses a machine instead of a person’s sense of taste to determine whether or not the mask fits.
Each test takes about 20 minutes, and Peacock can run up to five at once – four qualitative and one quantitative.
Peacock also teaches health-care workers how to properly put on and take off their mask, perform a seal-check, care for their mask and use it properly.
Keeping health-care workers safe
Peacock takes pride in keeping HHS staff and doctors safe, and especially enjoys interacting with them.
“It’s common for people to come into the clinic feeling somewhat stressed, especially because they’re already really busy and fit testing takes more time out of their day,” says Peacock.
“But I always greet people with a smile and move them through the process as efficiently as possible. By the time they leave, they tend to feel less stressed, and safer too because they know that their mask will do its job protecting them.”