FAQs for Respiratory Protective Equipment and Face Fit Testing

Are you using RPE and not sure what to select or is your knowledge limited within this area? Or perhaps you’re new to RPE and need some handy initial advice? Maybe, you have the correct RPE but are not aware of face fit testing requirements or what you should be doing as an Employer? RPE and face fit testing is a varied subject, so, to help, we have answered some of your basic FAQs which we’re certain will point you in the right direction!

What is Respiratory Protective Equipment and do I need it?

RPE generally is split into types, Respirators, which use filters to remove contaminants from the air being breathed in and Breathing Apparatus, which needs a supply of breathing- quality air from an independent source (e.g. air cylinder or air compressor).

Any work activities that may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, mist, gas or fumes then your employees are at risk of breathing in harmful substances and so will require RPE. So it may be used as an additional control measure, protection from an existing control measure failing, to list but a few examples. Employers should be familiar with all relevant Act’s or Regulations specific to their hazards and follow the legal direction provided. The HSE website provided a wealth of information across H&S, and RPE overall.

How do I go about selecting the right RPE?

If you’re new to RPE, at first it may seem complex, however, the HSE provide a handy guidance booklet to help steer your decision-making processes. This guidance is called the HSG53 Respiratory Protective Equipment in the workplace. RPE should be suitable and adequate for the wearer, the task and the environment. Carrying out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment will help you to determine the type of hazard/s you’re working with, and any existing control measures used. From there, you can start to ascertain what RPE may be required, the correct level of protection needed and the right mask-for-the-task. There is a handy flowchart available within the HSG53 to further shape your thought process and assist when selecting the right level of protection and RPE. In addition, use the free tools available such as COSHH Essential Guidance and RPE selector .

Is RPE on its own sufficient enough for my task?

A hierarchy of risk controls, In this example provided a construction specific one, should be adopted with PPE considered a last resort. In all cases, employers should also refer to any Workplace Exposure Limits that may be relevant to your hazard; this is particularly important as providing just RPE may not be sufficient or acceptable for said task. PPE is a last resort and although very important, often can be the first port of call to protect workers. And so, consider this at the end of your risk controls and look for better ways of eliminating or reducing the hazard first.

Ok, I’ve selected the correct RPE and now wish to purchase. Is there anything I need to consider?

Absolutely, there are many considerations before handing over those credit card details. It is paramount that you purchase compliant RPE that is fit for use. Unfortunately, at ESS, and has have many of our fellow fit2fit testers witnessed a sharp increase in non-compliant masks being used, particularly since the start of the recent pandemic. More alarmingly, some RPE, particularly disposables and half face respirators may look on the surface, by way of having relevant standard markings stamped on them, seem compliant, but this on its own doesn’t mean it is. So what advice can we offer you? 5 simple steps to purchasing RPE -

  • It sounds obvious, but only buy from a reputable source. Try to steer clear of auction or resell sites for example. Another valid option is to look out for the BSIF approved supplier logo from your intended supplier, such as ourselves; this means they’re a regulated supplier and meet industry best practice;
  • Supplier will happily send you across all relevant compliant paperwork for their RPE if asked. It should be readily available and not missing any info or have things hidden or blanked out;
  • The visibility of CE markings and a BS EN standard in itself does not inherently mean the mask is compliant, but is a good starting point. If they’re missing all together then this should certainly raise alarm bells*;
  • Fakes can be hard to spot sometimes. Check before buying. Use the [email protected] or request support from BSIF;
  • Use provided guidance such as HSE webinars, BSIF bulletins and reputable manufacturers for support.

*Less NIOSH Masks

Do I need to have a policy or something similar for RPE?

Like any other H&S processes or procedures you may have within the workplace, RPE is no different. As part of your Risk Assessment and overall SSOW you must detail procedures and arrangements for all aspects of RPE so you and your staff know what is required and when, we call this an RPE program. This program usually contains information on the selection processes, training, usage, maintenance, records, storage and fit testing, but clearly it is not limited to just this. Link this program into your Risk Assessment and Method Statements to provide clarity to all staff when using and wearing RPE.

How do I know if my RPE requires face fit testing?

All tight fitting RPE will require face fit testing. The HSG53 details which RPE requires fit testing and the type of fit testing methods that are applicable so you must ensure you check this. Loose fitting RPE does not require fit testing. The 2 approved forms of face fit testing within the UK is Qualitative (Taste) and Quantitative (Portacount). Quantitative can be used across the whole range of RPE and is considered objective, however, Qualitative is restricted to disposable and half face respirators only and is subjective in nature.

What does fit testing even mean and when should it be carried out?

As people come in various shapes and sizes it is unlikely that one particular facepiece or size will fit everyone – we’re all different after all. Face fit testing will ensure that a particular make, model and size of RPE is not only suitable to the wearer but also that there is no leak from the seal of the facepiece.

Fit testing should always be carried out upon initial selection of RPE, or any change in make, model or size of a respirator. Repeat testing should be considered when there is significant weight loss or gain, new additions of PPE and any Facial changes such as surgery. RPE should be fit tested periodically, or as designated by any Regulations specific to your workplace. BSIF recommends certificates should not exceed more than 2 years.

Where can I find guidance on face fit testing?

The INDG 479 is the industry guidance for face fit testing within the UK. You must be competent to face fit test. The fit2fit website and the HSE also provides guidance on face fit testing.

How do I know the face fit testing is carried out correctly if I have paid for a service?

The HSE recommends that you only use fit2fit accredited testers. Testers holding this gold standard accreditation have been externally assessed and are deemed to have a high level of knowledge, skills and experience to carry out competent face fit testing correctly and efficiently.

Can I carry out face fit testing withing my own workplace? 

In short, yes, but only if you have the necessary competence and have attended a relevant course of instruction. It’s vital that before you book this training you check out the company, the trainer and any relevant accredited approvals such as the tester themselves being fit2fit. In addition, like us here at ESS, the course can also be approved by fit2fit which meets the gold standard for training content. So not only are the courses accredited, so are our trainers.

What’s the fuss about facial hair? Do staff really need to be clean shaven?

Tight fitting RPE requires wearers to be clean shaven as its performance is reliant on the facepiece seal and contact to the skin. If the wearer is not clean shaven it will effect the performance and potentially expose workers to harmful substances. There is an extensive report for facial hair and RPE if required and interested -  RR1052. The COSHH Regulations and the HSG53 also specifies requirements for shaving. Wearers may have a moustache or goatee providing it does not interfere with the seal and is kept in the same condition, growth and size wise, as when fit tested. To conclude, face fit testing should not be carried out with facial hair within the seal of the facepiece.

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