Get Face Fit Tested

Face Fit Testing

The Face Fit Test is now a standard requirement to demonstrate a tight-fitting mask offers good protection. As our faces our unique, all wearers of masks need testing.

We are busy working through the Covid-19 crisis supporting the testing needs of those in the NHS and critical infrastructure. Coronavirus has brought fit testing to the mainstream and we’re proud to help.

What is a face fit test? A Face Fit Test is a way of teaching workers how to use a mask correctly, followed by an accredited test to verify an airtight seal against the face is achieved and maintained through seven, minute long exercises.

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Face Fit Testing is now legally required for all wearers of reusable and disposable masks like those commonly found in the workplace. Some people cannot be face fit tested, though they must still be protected. This will be explained later in this guide.

What is Face Fit Testing?

All workers requiring a face fit test are instructed on how to use, clean, maintain & store the mask they will be using. This is followed by exposing the workers to a sensitivity solution with either a bitter or sweet taste. Having confirmed they can taste the sensitivity solution, the worker then undergoes a 7-minute test.

During this they are asked if they can taste the test solution, this solution is ten times stronger than the sensitivity solution. If they cannot taste it, the face fit test has been successful and a certificate will be issued. However, the law requires tests to be repeated every two years. Other issues can mean tests need repeating sooner, this will be explained later in this guide.

Who needs Face Fit Testing?

One of the most common questions we get asked by clients’ is, “who needs face fit testing?” The simple answer for workers undertaking jobs where dust or chemicals could be inhaled is ‘everyone’. The key word here is ‘workers’. Whether you are an employee or self-employed the requirement to be protected from respiratory hazards exists. There are some exceptions but most of these apply to the hobbyist or DIYer.

If you wear any of the following types of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), you must be Face Fit Tested

Furthermore, employers are to be competent in understanding the storage and maintenance of masks along with the record of face fit testing. Training for this can be provided with our testing.

What are the benefits of face fit testing?

Here we have two key areas to look at; there is the business side of things and also the health of our workers. We’ll give an overview of both. From a business side it is becoming increasingly commonplace for clients to request evidence that your employees have been face fit tested.

Several bodies that accredit or vouch for an organisations safety record also require evidence as part of their audit process.

Perhaps most importantly, face fit testing is an active area of enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Non-compliance can result in a range of penalties for your business depending upon the nature of the infringement.

Is Face Fit Testing a legal requirement?

Yes, face fit testing is a legal requirement for anyone who wears a tight (or close) fitting mask for work. Industry Guidance 479 (INDG479) issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states:

“To ensure that the selected RPE has the potential to provide adequate protection for individual wearers, the Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) supporting the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), the Control of Lead at Work Regulations, the Control of Asbestos Regulations, the Confined Spaces Regulations and the Ionising Radiations Regulations stipulate that tight-fitting RPE should be fit tested as part of the selection process.”

Work-related respiratory disease covers a range of illnesses that are caused or made worse by breathing in substances that damage the lungs such as dusts, fumes and gases. The most prevalent of these diseases are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and silicosis.

These conditions have a devastating effect on both the individual and their families. They can also be extremely costly for employers found to be negligent.

Overall there are currently 12,000 deaths each year due to occupational respiratory diseases. That’s 33 people per day losing their lives because of exposure to preventable respiratory hazards at work. In addition to this already frightening number, there are about 35,000 people who worked in the last year, and 130,000 who had ever worked who believe their breathing or lung problems were caused or made worse by work.

We all know someone who has worked in a dusty environment and feels breathless with even relatively minor exertion.

Are there exemptions from Face Fit Testing?

There aren’t many scenarios where a face fit test isn’t needed. Here, we list a few examples of when a person wouldn’t need testing:

  • The worker has a type of RPE exempt from face fit testing; powered or constant-flow airline breathing apparatus (BA) with a loose-fitting hood or helmet do not require face-fit testing
  • The worker isn’t exposed to dust or chemical hazards
  • A hobbyist or DIYer would not require a face fit test so long as their work is not for reward

That’s not to say that we think it’s a good idea to not be tested even if one of the above exemptions applies to you. What if your equipment that doesn’t need a face fit test breaks down, what will your back-up plan be to ensure you are both protected and compliant?

A keen DIYer would benefit immeasurably from being face fit tested for their chosen mask. Both at home and at work the tales of safety glasses steaming up are plentiful. Tell-tale mucky streaks down the sides of the nose or under the nostrils are also giveaways that the mask simply isn’t working.

Requirements for Face Fit Testing:

For a face fit test to be undertaken there are some important prerequisites that need to be adhered to, here we list the main requirements for a successful face fit test to be done.

  • Qualitative face fit testing requires the wearer to be able to taste a bitter or sweet sensitivity solution. As such wearers are advised not to eat, drink (except still, unflavoured water), chew gum or smoke for at least 30 minutes prior to being tested
  • Wearers are to be clean-shaven in the face seal area (where the mask makes contact with the face), this is defined as having shaved within the last 8-hours
  • The wearer should be medically fit to wear RPE and be in a position to confirm this to the fit tester
  • If disposable masks are to be worn then a new mask should be available to each wearer to avoid hygiene issues
  • Wearers should wear any other items of PPE that may interfere with the fitment of the mask and vice-versa. It may be necessary to change items to ensure compatibility.
  • The chosen mask should be manufactured to the required legal standards

When does a face fit test need to be repeated?

Nothing lasts forever, and this is certainly true of face fit testing. Several factors all play a role in determining when a repeat face fit test should be done. As time passes our facial characteristics change, to keep up with this we recommend a new test be done after two years.

For young workers, it may be prudent to do tests more regularly particularly if they are likely be effected by the facial changes we undergo during puberty.

On top of this, repeat testing would also be needed if the wearers’ weight increases or decreases by more than 10% from that when tested.

Injuries can also play a roll; particularly a broken nose or jaw – a scar where the mask seals would require a new test to be done.

Surgery could also affect a fit; removal of Wisdom teeth for example.

Piercings or moles can also be an issue if they affect the mask seal.

Finally, the wearer must continue to wear the exact make, model and size of mask to that tested on and shown on their certificate.

Who can do face fit testing?

You need somebody both competent and experienced. Competent so they know both how to use the qualitative test kit itself and are able to instruct and educate wearers on how to get a proper fit with their chosen mask. Experienced so they can understand the subtleties of different faces and how that may affect mask choice.

Noses big and small or curvy and straight, faces long or short, round or oval, factoring in prescription spectacles or specific PPE such as a welding hood; all of these have a bearing on what mask would be used, not just to pass a face fit test but to ensure the wearer is comfortable with the minimum of breathing resistance for their particular filter requirements.

If you get the right mask for the right job you will not only save money long-term but you will find compliance, i.e. people actually using them, will rise because they like it and prefer it to that rubbish thing they had before that didn’t work.

INDG479 goes further and states:
“Fit testing should be conducted by a competent person. Competence can be demonstrated by accreditation under the Fit2Fit RPE Fit Test Providers Accreditation Scheme. This scheme has been developed by the BSIF, together with industry stakeholders, and is supported by HSE.”

Face fit testing and beards:

“Do I need to shave for a face fit test” is a question we hear routinely, both from employees and employers alike. Let’s dive into this hairy subject and give more explanation than the firm “Yes, where the mask seals will need to be shaved cleanly” we’ll arrive at.

The legal position is clear and defined as “the wearer should have shaved within 8-hours of the start of their shift”. Starting with acceptable facial hair, most moustaches do not cause issues; neither do sideburns in the majority of cases.

Once we enter the realm of the ‘Goatee’ life can get more difficult, though a competent tester will work with the person in question, there is often a compromise to be found with a little tidy up here and there along with a slightly larger mask to get skin contact under the chin.

Now, on to beards, you’ll remember from before we only need to clean-shaven in the area the mask seals, while this does open up the possibility for some fairly unique growth trends to enter the market. Unfortunately, we’re not sure it’s a style that has many proponents amongst pogonotrophists (beard lovers).

The fundamental issue here is that air is just too small; because of this annoying fact, if we want to achieve an ‘airtight’ seal between the mask and the face of the wearer, we cannot entertain anything being in-between these two surfaces that will cause leakage.

Thankfully there is a solution for those with beards, there has to be as not everyone can shave, in the form of an air-fed hood or helmet. These can be either fed from a fixed air-supply ideal for paint sprayers/welders or can be in the form of a self-contained unit suitable for those in construction or other ‘mobile’ trades.

They don’t require face fit testing but as with all RPE the user needs to be taught how to use it and maintain it.

A final note to add to this is that it is all well and good to be clean shaven for the face fit test itself, it is down to the employer to then implement an effective RPE policy in the workplace to manage this aspect long-term. Any employer who fails to do this will be found in breach by HSE inspectors.

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