RPE Fit Testing

In the light of new guidelines from the HSE about fit testing face masks to avoid transmission during the coronavirus outbreak, our Tristan Moseley looks at why face fit testing is always important in our industry and what you should take into account:

Respiratory Protective Equipment, or RPE is used by many workers in our industry who carry out activities that may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, mist, gas or fumes. RPE is designed to protect the wearer from these hazards, but it can’t protect if it leaks – and the major cause of leaks is a poor fit.

To be suitable and effective facepieces need to fit the wearer’s face with a complete seal to the skin – and as faces come in all shapes and sizes it is unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE will fit everyone. Face fit testing ensures that the mask selected adequately protects the wearer.

Why should fit testing take place?

Failure to have a qualified person carry out fit testing, and make a formal record of them, could not only lead to workers’ inhalation of harmful substances, and potential ill health but also legal consequences for those who are ultimately responsible for health and safety – including hefty fines or, in the most severe cases, imprisonment. Increasingly face fit testing is becoming compulsory on all construction sites and appropriate paperwork may be requested as a site entry requirement.

When should fit testing take place?

Regulations state that fit testing should be carried out as part of the initial mask selection process. Tests should also be carried out if there is any substantial change, such as the wearer gaining or losing a lot of weight. If an employee wears more than one type of tight-fitting facepiece, then each type should be fit tested.

How is the testing done?

Qualitative testing uses an easily detectable safe substance to check the face seal of a mask: The person under test has a special bag placed over their head and a sensitivity test solution is introduced to make sure it can be detected without a mask. Then a mask is fitted and the bag is placed over the wearer’s head a second time while a stronger solution is introduced. If the wearer fails to detect the substance, then the mask is correctly adjusted. If the substance is detected, then the mask must be readjusted and retesting must be carried out. It’s important to note that because any facial hair (even stubble) compromises the seal of a mask all workers must be clean-shaven.

Who should do fit testing?

RPE fit testing must be conducted by a competent person and it is the responsibility of the employer to take adequate steps to ensure that the person who carries out the fit test is appropriately trained, qualified and experienced: Here at DCP Safety & Training we are fully accredited to provide qualitative face fit tests.

Obviously, with the current lockdown we wouldn’t be able to observe social distancing rules to carry out testing at the moment. However, if you have one eye on a return to site, once controls are relaxed, we’ll be able to help. Get in touch early to express your interest, so we can be ready to test your workers as soon as we can.