Guide to Asbestos Respiratory Protective Equipment & Face Fit Testing

Those that work with or near asbestos are potentially the most at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. By its very nature, working on or with asbestos may disturb the material and release asbestos fibre into the air. Even with good control measures in place, airborne asbestos fibre levels may exceed the control limit. This is why anyone working on or near asbestos must take precautions to reduce exposure to asbestos as low as is reasonably practicable by wearing appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE). 

The regulations require employers to prevent asbestos exposure or where this is not possible to reduce asbestos exposure to the lowest level possible. RPE must be provided if, despite other control measures, asbestos exposure may exceed or is likely to exceed the control limit. 

RPE must be the last control measure used as it can only reduce asbestos exposure. It does not stop it. Other control measures such as fibre suppression, careful handling, and enclosed workspaces, to name but a few, must first be considered. Anyone working on or near asbestos must have appropriate asbestos training. It’s the law. 

Asbestos Respiratory Protective Equipment & Face Fit Testing

What are the specific requirements of asbestos RPE?

The specific requirements for asbestos respiratory protective equipment are the same as all other work required RPE. The law states that RPE used at work must:

  • Be adequate and provide the wearer with effective protection.
  • Be suitable for its intended use and CE marked.
  • Be selected, used, and maintained by properly trained people.
  • Be correctly maintained, examined, and tested.
  • Be correctly stored along with records for selection, maintenance, and testing.

How do I select suitable asbestos RPE for my employees?

Asbestos respiratory protective equipment needs to be matched to the work being carried out (potential asbestos exposure levels), the working environment, and the wearer. This means that asbestos RPE must:

  • Provide adequate protection against expected asbestos exposure levels during the job to be carried out, taking into consideration the work environment.
  • If fan assisted, provide clean airflow at a rate and duration that conforms to the manufacturer’s minimum specification.
  • Properly fit the wearer and be reasonably comfortable to wear.
  • Be properly maintained and not introduce additional hazards that may put the wearer’s health and safety at risk.

Within the HSE guidance HSG53 Respiratory Protective Equipment At Work: A Practical Guide there are details that employers need to consider when choosing RPE. These considerations include:

  • The expected concentrations of asbestos fibre in the air.
  • The protection factors that different RPE provide.
  • The potential for oxygen deficiency and/or the presence of other hazardous substances such as gas and or vapour.
  • The type of work involved. More strenuous activity may require a greater air supply.
  • The temperatures at which people will be working.
  • The facial characteristic of the wearers.
  • The medical fitness of the wearers.
  • The length of time the person will have to wear the RPE.
  • Whether the job involves extensive movements or restrictions.
  • The need to communicate verbally during the work.
  • The effects of any required personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Any other items that the wearer may have that could interfere with the RPE fit, such as piercings etc. 

What is face fit testing of RPE and is it required? 

The performance of all respiratory protective equipment is dependent on achieving good contact between the wearer’s skin and the face seal of the RPE. As shapes and sizes of wearers’ faces are wide-ranging, it is unlikely that one particular type and size of RPE will fit all wearers. To ensure adequate protection by the RPE provided to the wearer, a face fit test must be carried out.

There are two types of face fit tests available. These are qualitative face fit tests and quantitative face fit tests. These face fit tests are in addition to the standard “fit check” that every wearer must carry out each time they wear their RPE.

What is qualitative face fit testing for RPE? 

Qualitative face fit testing is not as accurate as quantitative face fit testing. This type of face fit testing is a very simple test and is based on the wearer’s subjective assessment of leakage via the face seal. 

It is a simple pass or fail test. It can be used for disposable and half-face RPE but is not suitable for full-face RPE. The basic method is to use odour or tasting compounds which, the wearer can easily identify. It is always recommended that the more robust face fit test, quantitative face fit testing, be used for more accurate and safer results.

What is quantitative face fit testing for RPE? 

Quantitative face fit tests are carried out using specialist equipment and are more sophisticated and accurate than qualitative methods. Quantitative face fit testing is recommended for all respiratory protective equipment to be used for work with asbestos. The specialist equipment (called porta count machine) measures the ambient particles in the air outside of the RPE against the particles being breathed in by the wearer of the RPE being tested. There are calculations that are used to ascertain if the RPE is sufficient for its required purposes. Those undertaking this type of face fit testing require specialist training.

How often should face fit test for RPE be carried out? 

The Health and Safety Executive recommends that face fit testing for RPE be carried out as a minimum every 12 months. In addition, a repeat face fit test should also be carried out if the wearer:

  • Is changing to a different model of RPE or different size facepiece.
  • Loses or gains weight.
  • Undergoes any substantial dental work.
  • Develops any facial changes such as scars, moles etc. 

What protection does RPE for work with asbestos give?

Each type of RPE has an assigned protection factor. The protection factors can be used to calculate if the chosen RPE is suitable for potential exposure. This calculation can be used once the details of the potential asbestos exposure are known. If you are unsure how to determine RPE protection requirements speak to a member of the Oracle team. 

HSE recommends a minimum protection factor of 20 for working on or near asbestos. This requires disposable respirators and filters for all other respirators, to be a minimum of FFP3 (Filtering Face Piece 3). Disposable and non-disposable half-mask asbestos RPE gives a protection factor of 20. Full face asbestos RPE generally gives a protection factor of 40.

It is important that the correct filter for asbestos is used on all RPE for work with asbestos. As a minimum, this must be particulate FFP3.

What RPE for work with asbestos is available? 

There are hundreds of different models, sizes and designs of respiratory protective equipment available for working with or near asbestos. However, all the different RPE available generally fall into these groups and protection factors (PF):

  • Filtering Half mask – Disposable – PF 20
  • Valved Filtering Half Mask – Disposable – PF 20
  • Half Mask & Filter – PF 20
  • Full Face Mask & Filter – PF 40
  • Power-Assisted Full Face Mask & Filter – PF 40

A protection factor of 20 is usually sufficient for all non-licensed asbestos works. Generally, when undertaking licensed asbestos works, a protection factor of 40 is required.

How do I care for, maintain, and test asbestos RPE? 

All RPE must be checked to ensure it is clean and in good working order before it is given to a wearer and again before it goes back into storage. Before use checks, should be made on the following:

  • The condition of the head harness and the facepiece, including seal and visor.
  • The condition of the inhalation and exhalation valves where fitted.
  • The condition of any threaded connectors and seals.
  • The condition, type, and expiry date of filters.
  • Where used, the charge and condition of battery packs.
  • For power-assisted RPE, the airflow rate.
  • Whether the RPE is complete and correctly assembled.

In addition to these pre-use checks all RPE, except for disposable RPE, must be more thoroughly examined and tested by a trained and competent person before it’s issued to a wearer and at least once a month. All records of these inspections and tests must be recorded and kept for five years. This includes any noted defects and remediation.   

What training must my employees have for asbestos RPE? 

As an employer, you must give your employees adequate instruction and training on the correct use and care of respiratory protective equipment. Employees should receive regular refresher training, and this must be carried out at least once a year. The following must be covered in your employee’s training:

  • How to fit and use RPE correctly.
  • Why they must wear RPE correctly and the importance of face fit testing.
  • How to do pre-use fit checking each time the RPE is worn.
  • Why they should never remove or put down RPE within a contaminated area.
  • How to recognise a reduction in airflow and what to do.
  • How to clean contaminated RPE when leaving the work area.
  • When not in use, where and how to store RPE.

A competent supervisor should monitor the use of RPE to ensure it is being used correctly and that wearers do not misuse the equipment.

What are the common misuses of RPE for asbestos? 

Misuse of RPE is a common and serious problem. You should be aware of the most common examples of misuse and ensure that employees understand the risk of misuse. The most common misuses of asbestos respiratory protection are:

  • Wearing RPE with facial hair.
  • Wearing spectacles with RPE, which are not designed for this.
  • Using dirty or damaged RPE.
  • Failing to maintain the RPE properly.
  • Leaving RPE lying around to get dirty.
  • With half-mask disposable RPE, wearing it upside down.
  • Not fitting the RPE head straps correctly.
  • Working with RPE hanging around the neck.
  • Using incorrect filters in the RPE.
  • Not wearing coveralls with the hood covering the RPE correctly.

How can Oracle help me with asbestos RPE and face fit testing? 

Oracle provides a full asbestos respiratory protective equipment service, including face fit testing. We will help you comply with the regulations by walking you through the whole selection process, providing correct and suitable RPE, providing adequate training, and ensuring that everyone receives suitable face fit testing for the chosen RPE. If you require any help with RPE and face fit testing, speak to a member of the Oracle team now. 

In addition to our respiratory protective equipment and face fit testing services, Oracle also provides the following:

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