CleanSpace Technology, an Australian company that designs and manufactures next-generation respirators in Sydney’s north, has found itself at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, with the rapid depletion of disposable masks, hospitals were suddenly desperately seeking alternatives to disposable masks.

“The need is very real and very urgent; we have had to quickly adapt our manufacturing to respond to the need,” says Dr Alex Birrell, CEO of CleanSpace Technology. “Our manufacturing facility in Sydney was upscaled and had to hire a lot of people and train them in advanced manufacturing and logistics.”

Initial risks around airfreight (with restricted commercial flights) were quickly overcome with assistance from Austrade, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Government’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM), and logistics company DHL, who organised CleanSpace priority status and secured regular flights into Australia.

Well before the COVID-19 crisis, CleanSpace’s HALO product was protecting the lives of thousands of frontline healthcare workers globally. Since the outbreak, this unique system has become the ‘standard of care’ for protection of high-risk healthcare teams in anaesthetics, surgery and general care. The advantages of reusable systems with superior protection and a secure supply chain make this Australian manufacturer an attractive and reliable vendor for many Australian and international hospitals.

“Like many businesses, COVID restrictions are creating a shift change in our training delivery platform,” said Dr Birrell. “In introducing a new technology, this had challenges but during an outbreak, healthcare workers around the world were, and still are, overwhelmed. Our deployment had to be reliable and fast (effectively reducing time required by the frontline workers).”

The proprietary technology at the heart of all CleanSpace respirators was designed by biomedical engineers who had previously worked for ResMed. ResMed is a world leader in CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) devices. The engineers had a vision to make respirators that delivered high level protection in an easy to use and comfortable system. The company has been successfully protecting workers in a wide range of sectors for the past ten years.

Until CleanSpace, the technology for masks had not changed for 30 years. Traditional devices were typically uncomfortable, hot and provided low protection. Industries such as mining, metalworks and stonemasonry, where workers are exposed to harmful contaminates such as coal dust, silica and welding fumes, welcomed an alternative.

“Our technology was seen as game-changer, and still is,” Birrell explains. “One of the main reasons people go unprotected is because of low compliance. If masks are uncomfortable or not quick and easy to put on then it simply doesn’t get used. CleanSpace is unique; it’s a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) without the heavy and cumbersome belt and hoses associated with PAPRs. Its simplicity with fresh air on the face, makes it far preferable to the N95 disposable.”

Their technology was so well received that CleanSpace has gone on to develop several respirators for various industries.

“Australia is a great place for launching and building a business around workplace safety. It has a solid international reputation for high safety culture,” added Dr Birrell. “Australian companies were the first to adopt the CleanSpace respirators. They have taught us a lot about the evaluation, training and deployment process in large complex operations. It has been the key to accelerating growth in other sectors and export markets.”

Following the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the WHO and CDC put out a call for lightweight, highly protective PAPRs specifically designed for healthcare workers. With its medical device background and a commercially proven technology, CleanSpace was confident it could develop a healthcare respirator. In 2018, with the support from the NSW Health Medical Devices Fund, CleanSpace HALO was approved. Some 30% lighter, smaller and more ergonomic that its predecessors, CleanSpace HALO was the first respirator to be designed in consultation with healthcare.

“One thing that remains constant is the confidence we have in the technology and its ability to protect workers facing airborne contaminates that risk their health and safety,” Dr Birrell concludes. “As Australia’s only respirator company, we are proud to be supporting doctors and nurses in their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”