Information Bite No 212 – Face fit testing: The essentials

Companies should undertake periodic face-fitting tests on masks because one-off tests do not sufficiently protect workers. Also, masks should have a maintenance record.

HSE guidance dictates that where respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is used, ‘it must be able to provide adequate protection for individual wearers. RPE can’t protect the wearer from leakage. A major cause of leaks is poor fit – tight-fitting facepieces need to fit the wearer’s face to be effective.’

No two faces are the same, therefore it is very unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE facepiece will fit everyone. Fit testing is designed to ensure that the equipment selected is suitable for the wearer.

Importance of periodic face fit testing

Fit testing will need to be repeated when there is a change in equipment or the facial characteristics of the wearer that could affect the fit. Loose-fitting devices, such as powered respirators with a visor or hood, need not be face-fit tested but still need to fit observably close to the face. Therefore, it’s possible that prior to this guidance, workers may only have ever had one face fit test.

For instance, the guidance says: ‘It is also good practice to have a system to ensure repeat fit testing is carried out on a regular basis. This is especially important when RPE is used frequently as a primary means or exposure control, e.g. annual testing for workers involved in licensed asbestos removal. If there are any changes to a person’s face though, for example, weight loss/gain, scars etc., a repeat fit test will be necessary.’

It is not uncommon that several people within an organisation will be wearing a mask which they were originally tested for, but no longer fits. In addition, several people use masks for long periods of time, whereas the HSE guidance states: ‘It is recommended that continuous wear time for tight-fitting (unpowered) RPE is less than an hour, after which the wearer should take a break.’

Another challenge for employers is workers that have beards. Guidance from HSE recommends that those with facial hair, scars, wrinkles or marks which prevent a tight seal in the area use a loose-fitting device: ‘The wearer needs to be clean-shaven around the face seal to achieve an effective fit when using tight-fitting face pieces. Training is a good opportunity to make employees aware of this. If workers have beards, or are unable to be clean-shaven, a tight-fitting device will not be suitable so an appropriate loose-fitting device should be chosen.’

How to conduct face fit testing

 You can use one of two face-fit testing methods – either quantitative or qualitative – but whichever one you choose, they need to be carried out with the same exercises and conditions and with a competent person doing the face fit test.

The key points are:

  • No smoking, drinking, eating or chewing gum for 15 minutes before the test, as this could affect the results;
  • No beards or stubble where the mask seals because this affects the fit (some goatee beards are ok but it depends where the mask sits. on the wearer; there may also be an issue with longer side burns);
  • A test must be done for each different type of mask – so anyone wearing a dust mask and a half-mask will need more than one test.

The final, important point, to remember is that there is a requirement (HSG 53) for an over 28-day mask maintenance record. The guidance states that thorough tests should be carried out at least once a month, or if the RPE is only used occasionally, the interval for testing shouldn’t exceed three months.

The guidance provides five key points that need to be followed when carrying out RPE maintenance:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions;
  • A competent person should carry out the work;
  • Keep records;
  • Ensure the intervals for maintenance are appropriate;
  • The maintenance programme should reflect the complexity of maintaining the RPE.

HSG 53 adds: “Ideally, any parts that require replacing will be sourced from the original manufacturer of the RPE. This will ensure any replacement parts continue to allow the equipment to operate as originally intended and perform to the standards that ensure the RPE offers the protection stated by the manufacturer.”

The guidance makes it clear that employers must keep records of examination and testing, and any repairs made, for at least five years.

Key maintenance tasks include:

  • Changing any replaceable filters;
  • Cleaning the device;
  • Valve maintenance and replacement;
  • Checking the straps for damage;
  • Checking the battery charge and flow rate for powered devices.

Maintenance records can be on your own form or a manufacturers.