Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) Face Fit Testing

Many workers wear RPE to protect their health in the workplace. RPE is a particular type of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to protect the wearer from breathing in harmful substances when other controls are either not possible or insufficient on their own.

Face Fit testing

Where respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is used as a control measure for the hazard under H&S legislation, it is vital that the selected RPE is both adequate and suitable for the individual wearing the RPE. 

To ensure that the selected RPE has the potential to provide adequate protection for individual wearers, tight-fitting RPE should be fit tested as part of the selection process.

The performance of tight-fitting facepieces depends on achieving a good contact between the wearer’s skin and the face seal of the facepiece. People’s faces vary significantly in shape and size so it is unlikely that one particular model or size of RPE facepiece will fit everyone. Inadequate fit will significantly reduce the protection provided to the wearer. Any reduction in protection may lead to immediate or long-term ill health or can even put the RPE wearer’s life in danger. 

A fit test should be carried out as part of the initial selection of the RPE

A fit test should be repeated on a minimum 2-yearly basis or whenever there is a change to the RPE type, size, model or material or whenever there is a change to the circumstances of the wearer that could alter the fit of the RPE; for example:

  • weight loss or gain;
  • substantial dental work;
  • any facial changes (scars, moles, effects of ageing etc) around the face seal area;
  • facial piercings;
  • introduction or change in other head-worn personal protective equipment (PPE).

Qualitative fit testing (QLFT) is a pass/fail test based on the wearer’s subjective assessment of any leakage through the face seal region by detecting the introduction of bitter- or sweet-tasting aerosol as a test agent. The assessment is completed by carrying out a set of exercises simulating everyday movement to determine whether an adequate seal is maintained. QLFT methods are suitable for disposable and reusable half masks; they are not suitable for full-face masks.

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) explained

Workers may also need RPE when working in areas where oxygen levels are, or may become low, i.e. when working in confined spaces such as a trench, silo or tank. 

RPE is designed to:

  • protect the wearer from a variety of hazards;
  • suit a variety of work situations;
  • match the specific requirements of the wearer.

A variety of work activities may result in harmful substances contaminating the air.  These substances can be in the form of dust, mist, vapour, gas or fume.

For example, when:

  •  cutting a material such as bricks / blocks (silica) or wood;
  • using a product containing volatile solvents;
  • handling a dusty powder or substance;
  • welding i.e. stainless steel.

CQMS can provide qualitative face fit testing in accordance with HSE INDG 479.    Face fit testing can be carried out either in our Grantham offices or at a clients premises.