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Fit testing respiratory protective devices

23 January 2013

David Lummis discusses the importance of RPE face fit testing and how the Fit2Fit accreditation scheme can provide assurance that the process is carried out correctly

David Lummis discusses the importance of RPE face fit testing and how the Fit2Fit accreditation scheme can provide assurance that the process is carried out correctly

It is a requirement of the Health & Safety Executive that all Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) requiring a face seal is face fit tested on the user to ensure a satisfactory seal can be achieved. Even a small inward leakage from a poor seal will expose the wearer to the hazard. Since this leak is the 'entry of least resistance' a disproportionate amount of protection will be lost.

All RPE is designed to accommodate a wide range of the population, but differences in face size and contours, nose structure, strap location and the performance level and style of mask required will affect the fit. The only way to be certain that a satisfactory seal is achieved is through individual face fit testing.

Face fit testing for RPE has been a requirement for some years in the UK. However through reports from HSE inspectors linked to market research, concerns were raised at the competence and capability of a significant proportion of individuals undertaking RPE fit testing. As a poorly fitted mask could expose users to serious risk, it is essential that individual fit testing achieves an accurate result. Failure to achieve this means the wearer will believe they are correctly protected, but in practice are being exposed to the hazard they are trying to avoid.
Further research indicated that a significant proportion of all RPE used may not offer the level of protection required and some of this was due to poor face seals and incompetent fit testing. With this in mind, BSIF, with the strong support of the Health & Safety Executive, established the Fit2Fit RPE Fit Tester Accreditation scheme. The schemes objectives are to; A) raise awareness and standards of RPE fit testing in the UK, B) to accredit fit testers who have demonstrated their competence in correctly face fit testing respiratory equipment and C) to supply a list of accredited fit testers so that users can select a competent tester to ensure their fit testing results are accurate.

Since its inception some two years ago, in excess of 150 face fit testers have been assessed and accredited. As significantly, a growing number of candidates have gone through the assessment process, but have failed to demonstrate sufficient competence for the scheme to offer accreditation. Often this is due to poor testing practices or insufficient knowledge and experience.

Fit2Fit is now referenced in the HSE document 282/28 which outlines best practice in RPE fit testing and is the basis on which Fit2Fit assess candidates for accreditation. Awareness of the scheme is growing rapidly and a number of companies now insist upon Fit2Fit accreditation before allowing RPE fit testers on site. The asbestos removal industry has been particularly active, with a substantial number of companies having been assessed or going through the process.

A statement from the HSE regarding the scheme says: “In preparing the Fit2Fit RPE fit testers accreditation scheme, BSIF and other industry stakeholders have worked closely with the experts in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Following this scheme is not compulsory and employers are free to take other actions to comply with the law. But if you follow this scheme, you will be doing enough to demonstrate good practice.”

RPE face fit testing is a legal requirement for any respirator requiring a seal to the wearer's face. This is because a satisfactory seal to the face is essential to ensure protection. Poor seals put the wearer at risk and poor fit testing will not highlight poor fit. Competent fit testing ensures the wearer is fully protected and it is the employer's responsibility to ensure this is undertaken competently. Fit2Fit accreditation gives you that assurance.