Updates to EN 149
23 January 2013
From July 2010 all Filtering Face Masks sold in europe will need to meet the updated EN149:2009 standard. This came about following a warning from the french Safety Institute for occupational accident prevention (INRS) in 2004 which highlighted a discrepancy between the performance of face masks when tested and their performance in actual use.
In 2004 the INRS issued a press release entitled â€œDust Masks: a Dangerous Standardâ€ which suggested that certain electrostatic filters (including the P3 type) offered a very low level of protection even though they met European Standards.
The document suggested that the three-minute test used for respirators was "perfectly acceptable for mechanical filters that become more effective the more they are used, but was totally inadequate for electrostatic models".
Consequently the INRS lobbied to get the standard updated/ changed but this was initially met with some resistance from manufacturers who were concerned that extreme changes to the standard could be an overreaction and may require an overhaul in their manufacturing procedures.
Eventually suitable adaptations of the standard were agreed and EN149 was updated in July 2009 with all respirators sold in the EU needing to meet the revised standard and pass the enhanced tests by the cut off date of July 2010.
Responding to industry speculation that some manufacturers may find it difficult or even fail to meet the criteria of the updated standard by July 2010, Geoff Hooke, general secretary to the BSIF said he expects all of the BSIF's members to be up to date by the deadline. From July any manufacturers not meeting the standard will have their certificates withdrawn by their testing houses.
From the specifier's point of view nothing will change in the selection process as a result of the updates to the standard. The gain for the specifier and the end user is that provided a device is correctly fitted and worn they can now be assured that the level of protection it offers will remain constant throughout its service life.
In light of the updates to the standard there have been suggestions that in order to meet the updated criteria some manufacturers may do so at the expense of breathing resistance, making the masks more uncomfortable to wear and the user more likely to remove them.
The importance of breathing resistance when specifying a mask will of course depend on the application and environment in which it is being used. But with increasing importance being placed on ensuring end user comfort and a correct fit for RPE, assessing the adequacy of a mask's breathability should no doubt be a significant priority. In addition, given that airflow will always find the route of least resistance, the higher the breathing resistance the more important an efficient face seal becomes in achieving a satisfactory fit.