Face fit testing is important for all trades that require respirators. As G&L Consultancy is a specialist asbestos management company, we fully appreciate the need to have our own employees face fitted for using tight fitting respiratory protective equipment. As with all the services that G&L Consultancy offer, quality is at the forefront of what we do.
Estimates suggest that thousands die or develop life-changing illnesses each year as a result of exposure at some point in their working lives to hazardous substances; asbestos and silica being prime examples. A large percentage of these cases could be prevented in the future by the correct selection and use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
- A risk assessment shows that tight fitting RPE is required, and;
- Individual fit testing has not previously been completed.
- If the employee shows substantial weight change, or;
- If the employee has undergone severe dental treatment, or;
- If the employee has had any scarring which may affect the seal, or;
- If the make; model or size of RPE has been changed, or;
- On an annual basis, if the RPE is used as a primary means of exposure control.
Face fit testing ensures that an adequate seal can be formed between the face seal of the chosen respirator and the wearer’s face.
After conducting a workplace assessment, it is no longer enough to supply a respirator, which meets a particular standard. It is the employer’s duty to ensure that an employee can obtain an effective face seal with the chosen RPE. No two faces are the same and therefore, despite advances in respiratory technology, one tight fitting respirator will not fit everyone.
Face fit testing as part of the respirator selection process saves time, money and is an investment in the safety and well-being of the workforce.
G&L Consultancy can provide either quantitative or qualitative face fit testing at our offices in Somerset and Northern Ireland, or at your chosen workplace as required.
Quantitative Face Fit Testing
Quantitative face fit testing determines that a tight fitting respirator provides an adequate seal to the wearer’s face by measuring microscopic particles that exist in ambient air. The test measures the number of particles outside the respirator and then measures the concentration of those particles that leak into the respirator whilst the wearer carries out a number of specific exercises.
For this test G&L Consultancy use the universally recognised TSI Portacount Plus Respirator Fit Tester and carries out the testing in accordance with HSE Operational Circular HSE OC 282/28 and Guidance Note HSG53.
The types of RPE that can be fit tested with this method include:
- P1, P2 and P3 Disposable Respirators;
- Ori-Nasal (Half Mask) Respirators;
- Full Face Respirators;
- Power Assisted – both Full Face and Ori-Nasal Respirators;
- Breathing Apparatus – both Full Face and Ori-Nasal.
The benefits of quantitative testing are that all types of RPE can be tested with this method; the machine counts the particles and calculate a fit factor and the tester does not have to rely on the person’s word that the mask fits properly. After the completed test the machine produces a pass / fail computer generated report.
Qualitative Face Fit Testing
Qualitative Fit Testing is a pass / fail test that is dependent on a subjective response from the respirator wearer.
The person is fit tested while wearing a respirator inside a hood, a bitter tasting aerosol (Biterex) is sprayed inside the hood whilst the person carries out set exercises, if the wearer detects the taste of the spray during the test than the fit test is deemed as unsatisfactory.
Qualitative fit testing is only suitable for disposable respirators and half mask respirators.
Respirators And Facial Hair
The majority of commercially used respirators require a solid seal against the face. This ensures that when you breathe in air, it’s drawn in through the air-cleaning filter material, rather than through any gaps around the RPE. Gaps can allow for contaminated air to reach your lungs. Therefore it’s extremely important that your mask has a good fit on your face, every single time you use it.
Facial hair, whether it’s a fully developed beard, or two-day weekend stubble, makes it physically impossible for your mask to get a decent seal onto your face. It’s imperative that you are clean shaven when wearing any of the tight-fitting masks and respirators that are available on the market. This will reduce the chance of possible contaminated air reaching your lungs. Most employers who expect their employees to be wearing RPE will likely have a clean shaven policy at work.
However, if there are specific reasons for having facial hair, due to religious reasons or certain skin conditions, there are alternative forms of RPE that are available on the market, which do not rely on having a tight seal.
Loose fitting RPE exists which does not utilise a mask that requires a face seal. They’re usually comprised of a blower unit, which blows clean filtered air into either a visor, helmet, or hood. Due to the constant airflow, any leakage due to gaps in the RPE goes outwards, rather than inwards, which keeps you protected. Loose fitting RPE are vastly more expensive, require a higher level of general maintenance, and are not commonly used.
Face Fit Testing For Non-Asbestos Workers
Even though our own work primarily comprises of potential asbestos exposure, our face fit testing is not specific to asbestos. There are many trades across the UK that require adequate RPE, whether it’s needed as part of their daily activity, or just for specific jobs. Either way, face fit testing will be required.
What Is Silica And Why Is It An Issue?
Crystalline silica is one of the most abundant minerals on earth and is found in varying amounts in almost all types of rock, clay, sand, gravel, and shale. There are many different types of silica, but the most common is quartz.
The HSE estimates that at least 100,000 workers are regularly exposed (daily) but many times more are exposed on a less regular basis (weekly). Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are particles of crystalline silica that are less than four microns in size, or particulate matter 4 (PM4). PM4-sized particles are so small that they can penetrate deep into the lungs. For comparison, human hair is typically between 70 to 100 microns in diameter.
The risks and health effects of crystalline silica are well documented, which has shown exposure to cause silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and lung cancer. However, the level of risk is entirely dependant on the amount of exposure, as well as the methods used, duration of the work, and control measures that have been put in place.
Who Is Most At Risk To Silica Exposure?
There are many trades and occupations that may be at risk to silica exposure, with some being more obvious than others. These include:
- Construction work (stone/rock cutting, sandblasting, sawing, masonry work, abrasive drilling, chipping, hammering and tunnelling, grinding)
- Glass manufacturing
- Mining, cutting, or drilling granite and sandstone
- Foundry work (moulding, grinding)
- Shipbuilding (abrasive blasting)
- Ceramics, pottery, and clay
- Tile, brick and refractory manufacture
- The use and/or manufacturing of abrasives
RPE Compatible With Work With Silica Dust
RPE requirements will vary depending on the work at hand, but below are the most suitable respirator options for the majority of tasks. It’s also worth noting that sandblasting hoods and helmets do not protect the operative against the adverse affects of airborne silica, and that adequate RPE will still need to be worn.
- Disposable respirators to standards EN149 (type FFP3) or EN1827 (type FMP3)
- Half masks (to standard EN140) with a P3 filter
- Semi-disposable respirators (to EN405) with P3 filter