Face Fit Testing For Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Are you sure that the Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) that you provide to your employees fits them properly? You should be, because the health of your employees and therefore the health of your business, could be at serious risk.

RPE, The Requirments

Where work activities may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, mist, gas or fume the employer needs to supply suitable protective equipment. For example:

  • cutting a material such as stone, concrete or wood
  • using a liquid containing volatile solvents
  • handling a dusty powder
  • spray painting

Where employees need to work in areas where oxygen levels are low, for example: confined spaces, such as a chamber or tank the employer needs to supply suitable protective equipment. RPE is designed to protect the wearer from these hazards. Under the regulations, you are required to provide RPE that is adequate and suitable to ensure the wearer is protected. This means:

Adequate: It is right for the hazard involved and reduces exposure to the level required to protect the wearer’s health.

Suitable: It is right for the wearer, task and environment, such that the wearer can work freely and without additional risks due to the RPE.

Adequate & suitable means a good fit

Recent research indicates that up to 50% of all RPE used across industry does not offer the wearer the level of protection either assumed or desired. The reason for this issue is that the protective measures simply do not fit properly. Under the regulations, all RPE must be correctly selected and this includes, for many types of RPE, a face piece Fit Test conducted by a competent person. 

Where RPE is used, it must be able to provide adequate protection for individual users. RPE is not an effective protection method if it leaks, and a major cause of leaks is a poor fit. Facepieces need to fit the wearer’s face to be an effective protection method. People are people and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, therefore, it is unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE facepiece will fit everyone. Fit testing will ensure that the equipment you have selected is suitable for the wearer and ensures that you have met all of your requirements under the regulations. 

What are fit tests?

As part of HSE regulations and the corresponding Approved Codes of Practice, part of the process for choosing the correct model of RPE (respiratory protective equipment) is to undergo a fit test. These tests are either “qualitative” for disposable masks or “quantitative” for half face & full face masks.

The test is designed to ensure that the wearer is using a mask that can provide adequate protection for the job and the substance involved. The performance of any protective mask will depend on a good seal between the wearer's skin and the face seal of the mask. 

What you need to do

The best time to do fit testing is at the selection stage when employees can be given a choice of adequate models of RPE. You should ensure that the make, model, type and size of facepiece that they wore when they had their successful fit test is made available for their use. If an employee wears more than one type of tight-fitting facepiece, then each type of facepiece should be fit tested.

How to do it

RPE fit testing should be conducted by a competent person, who is appropriately trained, qualified and experienced, and is provided with appropriate information to undertake each particular task. Many protective masks rely on a good seal against the face so that, when the employee breathes air in, it is drawn through the filter material where the air is cleaned.

If there are any gaps around the edges of the mask, contaminated air can and will pass through these gaps and into their lungs. It is therefore important that fit testing is undertaken. It is also important that your employees are trained to put their mask on correctly and to check for a good fit every time. In many cases, facial hair, stubble and beards, make it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face.

Being clean-shaven when wearing tight-fitting masks will help prevent leakage of contaminated air around the edges of the mask. However, in the case of an employee with facial hair for religious reasons, there are alternative forms of RPE, that do not rely on a tight fit to the face.

The HSE regulations and ACOPS further require that RPE is regularly inspected and maintained by a competent person. We can supply training to one of your employees to undertake this task. The training is in the form of a practical session indicating the main areas to look out for in general wear and tear on respirators to ensure that they keep to the required level of day to day performance. ACOPS recommend that respirators should also be serviced at 6 monthly intervals so this should be part of your consideration. 

If you have any questions about fit tests, or health surveillance services across the UK, please don't hesitate to contact us at 01455 234 600 or contact us online now. 


We have been using the services of Health Screen Uk since 2012 for our yearly Occupational Health Surveillance, covering Audio, Lung Function, Dermatitis and HAVS testing. We have always found Kerry and team to be both Professional and Efficient in the services they provide

Most recently we asked Health Screen to help provide us with Quantitative Face Mask Testing. Kerry was extremely helpful in providing this service in a very limited and difficult timescale.

Indeed our whole workforce was Tested and fitted in just one day with minimal disruption. We highly recommend this company to anyone requiring these services. A big thanks from everyone at HSL Construction.

Looking For Fit Tests For RPE in The UK ?

Call us On 01455 234600 or contact us on-line


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