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Working in harmony

10 October 2022

When it comes to PPE, compatibility is key. Here, Louise Charlton provides an insight into selecting truly compatible above the neck PPE.

COMPATIBILITY IS about more than being able to fit products together. To provide the intended level of protection, products must perform correctly when worn in combination. Selecting truly compatible above the neck PPE ensures that wearers are properly protected.

There is a lot to protect above the neck. Injuries in this area can be life-changing and even fatal. HSE statistics show that 24% of fatal injuries for the period 2021-2022 were sustained in the head and face areas. The majority of these were head injuries (97%) with the remaining 3% attributed to facial injury and injuries in several locations.1 Eye injuries are a common risk in many industries, most of which are avoidable by using the correct PPE. Exposure to harmful noise and hazardous substances can cause hearing loss and devastating illness later in life. 

With the complex risks presented in many workplaces, multiple types of PPE are often required to be worn at once. When PPE items are used together they must be compatible. Compatibility in PPE is not only about products fitting together, but also working correctly when worn together. Some products that fit together are not necessarily compatible in terms of performance. Using products that are not intended to be worn in combination can compromise protection and put workers at risk. Ensure PPE is truly compatible to avoid impeding the performance of any of the products. 

Helmet and faceshield mounted ear defenders

Ear defenders create a tight seal around the outside of the ears, meaning sound must travel through the ear cup, causing it to lose energy and become quieter. To create and maintain this seal, ear defenders are designed to exert a certain amount of ‘headband force’. Mounted ear defenders work with compatible helmets or faceshields to achieve the intended level of headband force. 

The ear defenders are tested on products they are designed to be compatible with, to assess the performance of the products working together. Change in headband force is also assessed to ensure the products continue to perform at the intended level throughout foreseeable use. Wearing mounted ear defenders with incompatible products means the level of hearing protection offered is unknown. Even if the products can be fitted together, the force exerted by the combination has not been verified. The headband force of incompatible products can be significantly lower than intended, meaning the attenuation level is reduced. The headband force can also be too high, causing discomfort and potentially overprotecting the wearer. Without testing to assess change in headband force after simulated wear, the ear defenders can become looser over time, reducing protection further. 

As category III products under the PPE Regulation, ear defenders are assessed in combination with compatible helmets and faceshields on a regular basis to ensure conformity is maintained. Choose products that are certified for use together to make sure the combination provides the intended level of hearing protection. 

Interruption to the ear defender seal should be minimised to avoid significantly reducing protection. In some cases, it may be necessary to position spectacle sidearms beneath the cushion, which can affect the attenuation offered by the hearing protector. Compatible safety spectacles with an elasticated strap provide a closer fit, enabling the ear defender to create a tighter seal and offer a higher level of attenuation. 

Eyewear and faceshields 

Safety spectacles, goggles and faceshields must be compatible with other items of PPE. The eye and face protector needs to fit properly to provide the intended level of protection and optical quality. Additionally, the eyewear must not affect the fit of other protective equipment, such as respirators and ear defenders. 

Helmet-mounted faceshields and eyeshields should only be fitted to helmets that they are designed to be used with. Eye and face PPE products are developed and tested to offer the certified level of protection with specific helmet models. Using products with incompatible helmets can affect impact performance and cause visual distortions due to incorrect positioning in relation to the eyes.

Another consideration is prescription eyewear. Prescription spectacles and PPE must be compatible so both can work as intended. The prescription eyewear must not interrupt the seal of a safety goggle or respirator, and the PPE must not interfere with the position of the prescription eyewear to avoid distorting vision.

Safety overspectacles and faceshields can fit safely over glasses. To wear prescription eyewear with goggles you can use a prescription lens or ‘RX’ insert. This is a removable insert, glazed by an optician with the appropriate lenses then fitted inside the goggle, meaning there are no spectacle arms to interfere with the seal. Prescription inserts are also available for use with full face masks, allowing corrective lenses to be worn safely without interrupting the respirator seal. 

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) 

Tight-fitting RPE relies on creating a seal between the mask body and the wearer’s face to offer protection. A facepiece that is not fitted correctly and leaks around the face seal cannot provide the intended level of protection to the wearer. Tight-fitting RPE products include disposable respirators, half masks and full face masks. 

Where it is necessary to wear other PPE in combination with a tight-fitting respirator, equipment must be compatible to ensure that protection is maintained. The sealing area around the mask must not be interrupted, and other equipment should be fitted to make sure it does not push or move the mask out of place while the wearer is working.

Helmet and browguard mounted faceshields that are designed to be used in combination with a respirator allow the mask (and filters) to fit comfortably behind the visor, enabling the wearer to move around freely and work without impediment. Eyewear fits close to the nose bridge and must not compromise the mask seal in this area. Compatible goggles and safety spectacles are designed to fit correctly with respirators, ensuring the intended level of protection is provided by both the respirator and the eyewear. 

Face fit testing is required for all employees who use tight-fitting RPE. This is a test to assess whether an individual can achieve a fit with a respirator. During fit testing all other PPE must be worn to check that the wearer can achieve a good fit while wearing the other items.

Integrated protection

Integrated PPE offers multiple forms of protection in one product. Selecting integrated PPE that provides complete protection against the hazards faced in a job or task is an easy way to ensure compatibility and maximum protection. 

Safety helmets are available with integrated eyeshields and faceshields. Systems for forestry and landscaping combine the appropriate head, eye/face and hearing protection to provide a compatible all-in-one solution. Powered respirators with a helmet can offer respiratory, head, eye and face, and hearing protection in a single unit.

Helmet accessories 

Depending on the industry, location or type of work, additional accessories and helmet attachments may be required. A wide range of products are available to fit to safety helmets, including lamps and holders for identification badges. Other helmet accessories include neck capes for sun protection and warmers for cold conditions. 

Wearers need to be comfortable to be able to work, and it is important to provide compatible accessories in order to prevent the use of unsuitable and unsafe alternatives. Safety helmets are designed to be worn year-round, including indoors and in warm areas, so working outside in the autumn and winter months while wearing a standard helmet can be uncomfortable. In some cases, wearers fit helmets over a hoodie or beanie-style hat to keep warm. Hats or hoods worn beneath helmets can affect the fit of the harness, making the helmet too loose and allowing it to move around on the head. Positioning the nape strap correctly and adjusting to a firm fit is important in providing the intended level of protection, as the helmet is designed for use and tested when fitted in the correct way. Helmet warmers and comforters are designed and tested to ensure they do not compromise the performance of the head protection, offering a compatible solution to increase comfort without compromising protection. Some styles are fitted on the wearer’s head before donning the helmet, and others are attached inside the helmet shell. 

Safety helmets should only be fitted with compatible lamps and other external accessories. Practical considerations, such as weight and material, as well as performance characteristics must be taken into account. Helmets should not be modified for the purpose of fitting accessories, other than in accordance with the product user instructions. Brackets that require a drilled hole in the helmet shell and metal parts can compromise electrical performance. 

As with other PPE, helmet accessories must be compatible. Just because an accessory can be fitted to a helmet does not mean it should be. If in any doubt, seek help from the helmet manufacturer who can advise on the compatibility of accessories and other products. 

It is important to remember that being able to fit different items of PPE together does not necessarily mean that those products are truly compatible. Products must be tested and assessed in combination to ensure they can be used safely together and offer the correct protection levels. Using incompatible PPE can reduce the performance of all products and put the wearer at risk. To protect against head, eye and face injuries, and prevent exposure to harmful noise and dangerous substances, above the neck PPE compatibility is key. 

Manufacturers develop PPE products to be compatible. Selecting items from a manufacturer offering a range of above the neck solutions, who can provide everything required along with support selecting and using the products, ensures true compatibility and maximum protection.


1 RIDSITE - RIDDOR reported fatal and non-fatal injuries in Great Britain by site of injury, https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/tables/index.htm

Louise Charlton is technical copywriter at JSP. For more information, visit www.jspsafety.com