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August 18, 2016

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Creating positive attitudes towards mask fit testing

As any health and safety advisor will know mask fit testing is very important for a number of reasons, the main one being keeping hazardous substances such as Silica dust out of the wearer’s lungs. Many sectors of industry, ranging from hospitals and construction sites to hardware stores, quarries and pharmacies require their employees to wear masks for part of their role. Companies are actively endorsing mask fit testing on their sites and creating policies to enforce this requirement for all the relevant staff.

Making sure the mask fits seems obvious, but for many years the one size fits all mask was worn and not really given a second thought. I’m glad to say that in most instances this isn’t the case in industry today.

As part of my work for Altius VA Ltd I carry out fit testing for various businesses around the UK. I have found that most staff I come across are very open to fit testing, they see the benefit and buy into it. However, I think any health and safety advisor who has carried out fit testing will agree that from time to time you face negativity when you inform staff that they will need to be fit tested.

Normally this is around the fact that they must be clean shaven when wearing masks such as the FFP3 disposable masks. Most companies I have dealt with have put in their PPE policy that staff must comply with any PPE requirements unless for medical or religious reasons where in this instance alternative arrangements will be made. Unless for any of the previous reasons mentioned most companies decide against buying in the full hood RPE masks as these are very costly and have added maintenance costs such as replacing filters or batteries.

beardYou wouldn’t believe a beard could be such an emotive subject, but many feel that their beard is part of their image. One man I spoke to equated it to shaving his hair off his head and said that I wouldn’t ask him to do that. Needless to say it can be quite a difficult subject at times.

I find that normally if you’re polite, show you appreciate their point of view and actively listen, then you will find a chance to explain your reasoning. Let them know it’s for their own safety, and highlight the repercussions certain substances can have on their health.

A way of endorsing fit testing and the use of RPE for new staff could be to discuss it within the employee’s interview. This way they fully appreciate and understand the company’s stance on their fit testing and RPE policy, saving conflict and confusion later.

As for current/long term employees, more awareness around the dangers of not correctly wearing RPE may be required in the form of tool box talks, videos and posters. Like anything in the health and safety world education is key and through this we encourage buy in from staff who will realise it is for their benefit.


Adam Gomes is HSQE Manager at Altius VA Ltd


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