Discomfort and exertion associated with prolonged wear of respiratory protection in a health care setting

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2012;9(1):59-64. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2012.635133.


The nature of discomfort and level of exertion associated with wearing respiratory protection in the health care workplace are not well understood. Although a few studies have assessed these topics in a laboratory setting, little is known about the magnitude of discomfort and the level of exertion experienced by workers while they deliver health care to patients for prolonged periods. The purpose of this study was to determine the magnitude of discomfort and level of exertion experienced by health care workers while wearing respiratory protection for periods up to 8 hr when performing their typical occupational duties. This project was a multiple cross-over field trial of 27 health care workers, aged 24-65, performing their typical, hospital-based occupational duties. Each participant served as his/her own control and wore one of seven respirators or a medical mask for 8 hr (or as long as tolerable) with interposed doffing periods every 2 hr. Self-perceived discomfort and exertion were quantified before each doffing: self-perceived level of discomfort using a visual analog scale, and self-perceived level of exertion using a Borg scale. Overall, and as would be expected, discomfort increased over time with continual respirator use over an 8-hr period. Interestingly, exertion increased only marginally over the same time period. The relatively low level of exertion associated with eight respiratory protective devices, including models commonly used in the U.S. health care workplace, is not likely to substantially influence workers' tolerability or occupational productivity. However, the magnitude of discomfort does appear to increase significantly over time with prolonged wear. These results suggest that respirator-related discomfort, but not exertion, negatively influences respirator tolerance over prolonged periods. Discomfort may also interfere with the occupational duties of workers.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Masks / adverse effects*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Health*
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Respiratory Protective Devices / adverse effects*
  • Self Report
  • Time Factors