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New ear looped filtering facepiece respirator restrictions

09 April 2024

THE OFFICE for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), part of the Department of Business and Trade, has announced a new restriction on filtering facepiece (FFP) respirators held in place with ear loops.

The restriction follows research conducted by HSE, which has shown that masks relying on ear loops – even if they’re used with clips or ‘snuggers’ - lack the effectiveness to prevent the inward leakage of harmful substances. This is due to the seal of the mask not being tight enough to provide the correct protection, in comparison with head strap masks.

Depending on the occupational setting, airborne substances can occur from a variety of outputs, such as dust, gases, fumes, mists, or vapours present in the air. These substances are often invisible to the naked eye but can lead to significant respiratory problems for the workforce.

Every year, thousands of workers in the UK experience damaging lung-related effects, such as lung cancer, asthma or lung scarring, because of airborne contaminants they have breathed in at work. Annually, there are an estimated 19,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems made worse by work, according to HSE. The severity of harmful effects depends on duration, frequency and degree of exposure to the substances.

Alex Turgoose, product and procurement manager at Arco, the UK’s leading safety company, commented: “It’s vital that employers and consumers ensure the respiratory protective equipment (RPE) they’re purchasing is airtight to keep themselves and their employees safe - and masks with head straps are the most assured way to do this. 

“When selecting face masks, it's important to pick the correct RPE for your workplace hazards, as well as undergoing face fit testing, as one size facepiece does not fit all. Everyone has a different face shape, depending on gender, ethnicity, build and facial features. A competent assessor can make sure that masks are adequate for the specific risk and suitable for the wearer as well as the task and environment.”

The new restriction does not apply to fluid resistance surgical masks (FRSM), which are used for other purposes and are not required to be tight fitting.