The Results Of HSE’s Face Fit Test On CE Ear Loop Respirators

Three different types of disposable facemasks that use ear loops to hold themselves in place that HSE has shown are inadequate to effectively protect wearers

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) plays a key role in protecting workers from the dangers of respirable hazards in dangerous environments, but the explosive increase in filtering facepieces (FFP) during the global pandemic muddied the waters in terms of the efficacy of different types of masks.

Worn by millions of people across the country, ear loop masks were the most common type of mask, often incorrectly referred to as “respirators.” Unlike respirators RPE which have head and neck straps, ear loop masks rely solely on the ears for support. A cheap and simple loop of elastic is hooked behind both of the user’s ears to enable the mask to stay in position.

This design raised questions about the efficacy of ear loop face masks in maintaining a secure fit around the nose and mouth of the user, especially as the mask could be easily removed simply by tugging on it. In response, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducted face fit tests to determine their suitability as respiratory protective equipment in hazardous working environments

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How Did CE Ear Loop Masks Perform In HSE Tests?

For any FFP respirator to be wholly effective, it must create and maintain a secure seal between the mask and the user's face. However, the bone structure of the human face is unique, so a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to provide adequate protection from respirable hazards. To assess the effectiveness of the fit, face fit testing is used to ensure the respirator conforms to the wearer's facial features and can establish an adequate seal.

The HSE's study focused on nine different styles of CE-marked ear loop masks and used quantitative face fit testing to assess their performance. The results were concerning. The ear loop design proved incapable of maintaining sufficient tension to keep the respirators securely in place, leading to a significant inward leakage during the test.

The implications of these findings are crucial. Inward leakage represents a failure in the primary function of a respirator – to protect the wearer from harmful respirable particles and pathogens. Without a secure seal, even CE-marked ear loop respirators cannot effectively filter out contaminants, leaving the wearer vulnerable to potential health risks.

What Was The Response Of The HSE?

In response to the alarming results of the study, the HSE issued a safety notice which stated:

‘HSE does not recommend using respirators/masks secured using ear loops as tight-fitting RPE. If the respirator/mask uses ear loops, in most cases, it is highly unlikely to provide the wearer with the right protection.’

This statement underlines why RPE must be face fit tested. While CE markings may indicate compliance with European/EU standards, it’s crucial to understand that such markings alone do not guarantee a respirator's effectiveness in real-world scenarios. The HSE's findings are a stark reminder that the safety of workers should be a priority when it comes to choosing and using respiratory protective equipment.

Contact Us To Find Out More

At Fire Safe International, we stock a comprehensive range of HSE-approved RPE and quantitative and qualitative face fit testing kits, backed by our professional face fit testing services. To find out more, please get in touch today.

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