Face Fit Testing of RPE – Risk assessment and Prevention

Face Fit Testing of RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment)

Respiratory Protective Equipment (or RPE) is used to protect wearers from exposure to a range of chemicals, solvents, dust, fibres, etc.  It is often a protective measure that is identified in the risk assessment. The RPE must be able to provide adequate protection for individual wearers (otherwise there is no point in wearing it). It makes sense that RPE cannot protect the wearer if it leaks. One of the major causes of leaks is poor fit – tight-fitting facepieces need to fit the wearer’s face to be effective. It stands to reason that if people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, it is unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE facepiece will fit everyone.

Providing even the highest quality FFP2 or FFP3 respirators to healthcare workers and enforcing their use is only the first step. The best masks will not protect the wearer if they leak – such as with poor fit due to facial characteristics or the wrong model mask selected (as two big causes). Other necessary steps include ensuring that respirators fit along, couple to proper training and continued use.

The principle is that “fit testing” will ensure that the equipment selected is suitable for the wearer. The best time to do fit testing is at the initial selection stage when individual users can be given a choice of adequate models of RPE. You should ensure that the make, model, type and size of the facepiece that they wore when they had their successful fit test is made available for their use. If an employee wears more than one type of tight-fitting facepiece, then each type of facepiece should be fit tested.

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Face Fit Testing of RPE

RPE fit testing should be carried out by a competent person. Ensure that the person who carries out the fit test is appropriately trained, qualified and experienced, and is provided with appropriate information to undertake each particular task. The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has introduced a scheme for fit testers, which may provide evidence to help you decide whether a fit tester is competent.

Many masks rely on a good seal against the face so that, when you breathe air in, the air is drawn in through the filter material where it is cleaned. If there are any gaps around the edges of the mask, the potentially contaminated air will pass through these gaps and into your lungs. It is therefore essential that you put your mask on correctly and check for a proper fit every time.

It should be noted that facial hair – stubble and beards – make it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face. If you are clean-shaven when wearing tight-fitting masks (i.e. those which rely on a good seal to the face), this will help prevent leakage of contaminated air around the edges of the mask and into your lungs. You will, therefore, be breathing in clean air, which will help you stay healthy.

If there are good reasons for having a beard (including religious reasons), alternative forms of RPE, which do not rely on a tight fit to the face, are available.

There are two major types of RPE:

  • Tight-fitting facepieces (often referred to as masks) rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face. These are available as both non-powered and powered respirators and BA. A face fit test should be carried out to ensure the RPE can protect the wearer.
  • Loose-fitting face pieces rely on enough clean air being provided to the wearer to prevent contaminant from leaking in. This is available as powered respirators or breathing apparatus. Examples include hoods, helmets, visors, blouses and suits.

Face Fit Testing is required for the following types of masks:

  • Disposable half masks
  • Re-usable filter or cartridge half masks
  • Powered respirators
  • Full face filter or cartridge masks
  • Escape set masks
  • Full breathing apparatus masks

Qualitative face fit testing

Qualitative fit testing is a pass/fail test based on the wearer’s subjective assessment of any leakage from the face seal region, by sensing the introduction of a test agent. These tests are suitable for half masks. They are not ideal for full face masks. Examples of qualitative fit testing methods are:

  • an approach based on bitter- or sweet-tasting aerosol
  • an approach based on odour compounds

Quantitative face fit testing

Quantitative fit testing provides a numerical measure of the fit, called a fit factor. These tests give an objective measure of face fit. They require specialised equipment and are more complicated to carry out than qualitative methods. Quantitative methods are suitable for full face masks (but can also be used for half masks). Examples of quantitative fit testing methods are:

  • laboratory test chamber
  • portable fit test devices, such as a particle counting device

 Competence and Face Fit Testing

RPE face fit testing should be conducted by a competent person. Competence can be demonstrated by achieving accreditation under the Fit2Fit RPE Fit Test Providers’ Accreditation scheme. This scheme has been developed by the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) together with industry stakeholders and is supported by HSE.

The scheme is not compulsory, and you are free to take other action to comply with the law.

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