Do I Need a Face Fit Test?
Posted: 29th August 2016
We are often asked "Do I need a face fit test for our dust masks?", and there is a simple answer, YES.
If you have followed the hierarchy of risk control measures in order to eliminate and reduce the respiratory hazard as far as is reasonably practicable, and it is found that there is still a residual risk to the respiratory health of your employees - then some form of RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) must be used to control the hazard.
Estimates suggest that thousands die each year as a result of exposure to hazardous substances at some point during their working lives. A high percentage of this annual loss could be avoided by the correct selection, fitting and use of RPE.
It is no longer sufficient to just provide an employee with a respirator, it is the employer's responsibility to ensure the chosen respirator/mask adequately seals to the wearer's face, thereby protecting them from the hazardous substance. You can provide your workforce with the most expensive respirators that money can buy, but if the chosen RPE doesn't fit the individuals face the respirator will not sufficiently filter the hazard you are protecting against!
Under the FPE Regulations, protection must be suitable for the wearer; it should take into account the hazard being protected against, and it should fit correctly. Face fit testing is also a legal duty under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, the Control of Lead at Work Regulations and the Control of Asbestos Regulations.
A "tight fitting" respirator is one which depends on the ability of the respirator to form a seal with the user's face. This includes Filtering Face Pieces (Disposables) Half Masks and Full-Face Pieces. Exceptions to this are air-fed loose fitting hoods, visors and helmets which do not require a seal to be formed.
A simple 20 minute qualitative face-fit test can tell you whether a mask size, shape or material is suitable for a particular operative. We offer qualitative face fit testing in accordance with the HSE OC 282/28 and HSG53. Our testers are trained and Fit2Fit approved and can carry out tests at customer locations or our test centres in Kent and London.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I HAVE IT DONE?
“It is good practice to have a system in place to ensure repeat Fit Testing of RPE is carried out on a regular basis. This is especially important when Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is used frequently as a primary means of exposure control, e.g. annual testing for workers involved in licensed asbestos removal”
WHY DO I HAVE TO BE CLEAN-SHAVEN?
The legislation and guidance require that there should be no facial hair interfering with the mask’s seal, thus some moustaches and beards may be OK as long as they are not in the area where the seal touches the face. Stubble can be sufficiently strong to hold a respirator off the wearer's face to allow the kind of particles that can be hazardous to health into the wearer's breathing zone.
It is therefore a requirement that employees should be clean shaven for the Fit Test so that there is no ambiguity in the results - many employers are now adopting a contractual clause stipulating that employees required to wear RPE as part of their job must be clean shaven.
In some cases, the employee may say they will not shave on religious grounds. The Equality Act imposes a duty to consider the needs of people with different religious beliefs when designing and delivering services. An employment tribunal might find discrimination on grounds of religion where there are viable alternatives to requiring the worker to shave off their facial hair.
Thankfully, alternative respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is available. There are fan powered, battery operated loose fitting hoods, helmets and visors, which blow clean air across the face under positive pressure. Loose-fitting face pieces rely on enough clean air being provided to the wearer to prevent the contaminant leaking in.
This type of equipment still needs to be worn closely and you should ensure that the wearer is instructed in its correct use. Loose-fitting devices do not need to be face-fit tested, but they do need to fit observably close to the face.
HOW DO I OBTAIN A COPY OF THE LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE?