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9th October 2017

Face-Fit Testing – All You Need to Know…

During a site safety inspection you were told that all staff using dust masks and any other respiratory protective equipment (RPE) must have a face-fit test. What is this and is it really necessary?

What is fit testing?

A face-fit test is a procedure which identifies whether a seal is made between the skin and the mask. These are required for all tight-fitting respiratory protective equipment (RPE), including full face respirators, filtering face pieces (masks) and everything in between. Many employers believe that if they purchase an off-the-shelf pack of dust masks, they are exempt from face-fit testing. But this is not the case at all.

What is the legal position?

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) requires that where exposure to hazardous substances is not controlled adequately by other means, suitable RPE must be provided. To achieve suitability it has to fit the wearer. For this reason, the Approved Code of Practice which accompanies COSHH requires that the selection process for tight fitting face pieces should include a fit test. Control of construction dusts is a major topic for the HSE this year and so don’t be surprised if the HSE want to see evidence of face-fit testing having been undertaken.

When should it be carried out?

Since major cause of leaks in respiratory protection is poor fit, you may ensure that staff undertake a face-fit test to check that the model is appropriate. As there are many different makes and models available, it should be possible to find one which fits.

Tip 1. Provide the face-fit test initially when the RPE is allocated, and for any existing users. It’s also good practice to repeat the testing periodically (no set review frequency is defined in law).

Tip 2. Face-fit testing must be repeated if different RPE is to be used or there is a change to the user’s face, e.g. scars, weight gain or a broken nose.

Tip 3. As mention, HSE Inspectors visiting your site may well ask to see certificates for face-fit testing, so keep them handy.

How is it done?

There are two types of fit test. Which one you carry out will depend on the type of RPE in use. A qualitative fit test is a simple pass or fail test. It is based on the user’s assessment of whether or not they can sense a test agent being used. Examples of such test agents include using a bitter or sweet testing aerosol or an odour compound. If the user is able to sense the test agent, the seal is not fitting correctly to their face, so it’s a fail. This test is not a suitable option for a full-face mask but it ok for other types.

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