Arguably the most important part of the Respiratory Protective Equipment process is fit testing, as this ensures that the apparatus works well and keeps the dangerous substances away from the mouth and, ultimately, out of the body.

Fit testing will need to be present in many fields, from building and construction to manufacturing, chemical handling and medical care.

The HSE states that "a major cause of leaks is poor fit", adding that "tight-fitting facepieces need to fit the wearer’s face to be effective".

If a mask is too loose, particles and fumes can enter the respiratory system, causing both short-term and long-term health issues.

Choosing the correct mask for your wearer involves both personal choice and comfort as well as finding the right mask for the job. For instance, you may need to have a mask which has additional motorised breathing help if you're in an enclosed space where a lot of fumes are produced.

Qualitative and Quantitative Fit Testing

Here at Speedy, we provide training for both  Qualitative and Quantitative Fit Training.

Qualitative Face Fit Training is used to determine the seal quality of face masks, and relies on the person's sense of taste to judge how secure the mask is. If the person can taste any spray solution, the seal is not effective.

Quantitative Face Fit Training is different in that it doesn't rely on the individual being tested. It uses more scientific methods, such as particle counting, to judge how effective a seal is. They will need to work in an environment which simulates a natural working environment to check the seal of the mask. A device will then be used to judge how many particles have entered the mask in that time, compared to how many are outside the mask at that time (i.e. how many particles the mask has stopped).

Do I Choose Qualitative or Quantitative Face Fit Training?

It will depend on the type of mask you require and prefer, the budget of your workplace and whether testing will be carried out in-house.

Choosing Qualitative testing can keep costs down, as it is more simple and doesn't rely on extra machinery. However, it does rely on the senses of the individual so particles could be entering the mask without detection. It can be more difficult to determine the quality of the seal.

Quantitative testing is pricier, however this is mostly an initial investment for equipment. You may need to test externally to simulate the actual working environment.

What You Need To Do

The HSE advises: "If an employee wears more than one type of tight-fitting facepiece, then each type of facepiece should be fit tested."

In terms of who needs to carry out this procedure, it needs to be done by a trained employee, who is given the designated job by the company. They also need to be given the appropriate information and job guidance for every fit, so they can best match the mask to their needs.

The British Safety Industry Federation has a process by which workers can become accredited and, given the importance of the job, this qualification needs to be taken seriously.

"RPE fit testing should be conducted by a competent person - you should take steps to ensure that person who carries out the fit test is appropriately trained, qualified and experienced, and is provided with appropriate information to undertake each particular task," the HSE states.

Facial Hair

Facial hair may reduce the sealed fit of a mask to the face. This includes short stubble as well as beards. Clean-shaven skin will benefit from a closer fit. If facial hair is personal or religious choice, there are options for RPE which can be beneficial, such as full face covers which don't rely on a sealed fit to the face and instead will involve neck seals.

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