Launch of programme for safety-conscious mask-wearers


According to the British Safety Industry Federation, research indicates that up to 50 per cent of all respiratory protective equipment (RPE) used doesn’t offer the wearer the level of protection assumed, often because it isn’t fitted correctly.

Employers have to ensure that the selected face piece is of the right size and can correctly fit each wearer. For a tight-fitting face piece, the initial selection should include fit testing to ensure the wearer has the correct device. Also, employers must ensure that whoever carries out the fit testing is competent to do so.

According to The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, 2002, the performance of RPE with a tight-fitting face piece depends on a good contact between the wearer’s skin and the face seal of the mask.

Fit testing is needed where RPE is used as a control measure. Where it’s worn by choice for comfort, fit testing isn’t required. Loose fitting RPE, such as hoods and ventilated visors, don’t need fit testing, although they should fit appropriately.

For RPE to be an effective control, it’s essential that it’s selected, fitted, maintained and stored correctly, and that people exposed to respiratory hazards are in a programme of health monitoring and surveillance.

Fit testing can be qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative testing involves a simple pass or fail based on whether the user can taste or smell a harmless aerosol or odour through the RPE.

The Approved Codes of Practice for the following legislation all recommend fit testing of RPE, which incorporate a tight-fitting face piece:

  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
  • Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006
  • Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002

The Approved Codes of Practice recommend examination and testing by a competent person at least once a month. If RPE is used infrequently, it should be tested thoroughly before each use, providing the interval between testing is no more than three months. Records of selection, maintenance and testing must be kept.

Once a user has passed a fit test for a particular face piece, they can wear other face pieces of the same make, model, type and size. However, if they need to use a different make, model, type of size then that face piece will also need to be fit tested.

Re-testing is recommended to check that the face piece remains suitable and that the wearer is taking care to wear and remove the mask correctly. A two-year cycle has been suggested, and a one year retest is suggested for work with asbestos.

Fit test records must be made available to the Health and Safety Executive on request, and to the employees who wear RPE. Safety representatives may also need to see summaries of the results.

As well as an initial fit test, RPE should be checked every time it’s used to make sure it hasn’t been damaged, and that it’s being worn correctly. The supplier of the RPE should provide details of how to do a pre-use check.

Before each use, the wearer should ask: is this the right RPE for this particular job?
If filters are used, are they the correct ones? Are they in working order? Do they need replacing or cleaning? Is the RPE clean, especially on the inside? Are there any tears, cracks or signs of distortion?

These are the type of issues addressed in our new train the trainer course, which looks at the background to face fit testing, the legislation and guidance, set-up of equipment, the sensitivity test, fit test protocols, practical face fit testing, and planning and managing a Fit Testing Programme, among many other things.

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