Face Fit Course with HSL, HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory, Buxton

16th April 2018

I attended the Face Fit course at the HSE Laboratories in Buxton in March to undergo my training in order that I could competently carry out face mask fitting as part of my role as an Occupational Health Technician.

On the day, there was a wide range of delegates from all different industries and with a wide range of job roles, such as Health and Safety Managers and Occupational Health personnel. There was also one gentleman who sold equipment and masks so wanted to get more knowledge on the product he was selling.

The course started by explaining the importance of selecting the correct mask for the job in hand and the importance of the fit of the mask.  We were shown a number of different masks, some disposable type ones, some that could be used for up to a week and some heavy-duty half face and full-face masks similar to what you would expect a firefighter to wear.

We all got to try out some of the masks which was really good fun and it also proved that one mask does not fit all as everyone’s face shape is different, so it was important that companies stocked a wide range of masks to increase the chances of one fitting correctly. It was also mentioned that masks should be checked for fit every two years or much more frequently should the person lose or gain a lot of weight as that would drastically change their facial features also.

Once we had chosen the type of mask we wanted to be tested to see that it fitted correctly, and we had done our pre-checks, such as checking if it had the CE mark, checking there was no rips or holes in it, we could then continue to do the testing.

There are two different methods to test if a mask fits correctly – Quantitative and Qualitative. Prior to the course I had seen Qualitative mask fitting done as this was already being carried out by my colleagues.

Quantitative can be used to test all types of face masks including the full-face masks and a machine called a PortaCount is used.

Firstly, you must check if the employee is clean shaven. If they are not, that is an immediate fail as the mask cannot fit snugly to a beard or moustache. They are also not allowed to smoke for at least one hour prior to testing and not eat or drink (except water) for at least 30 minutes before. If they wear other protective equipment, such as glasses, they will need to bring those also.

The PortaCount machine is attached to the face mask via a thin pipe. The machine then draws air through another pipe and this sample flows through saturated alcohol vapour which enlarges the particles and these enlarged particles then break the laser beam in the PortaCount machine allowing the particles to be counted. The PortaCount then sends the information through to the computer which calculates the result of the test by comparing the number of particles counted on the outside of the face mask to the number of particles counted on the inside of the face mask.

Whilst that process is taking place, the face mask wearer is required to perform some simple exercises to replicate the movements that would be done whilst the wearer is working as no one stands completely still whilst at work!

Face fit testing

The exercises take one minute each and there are seven exercises. With each exercise you will need to be stepping on and off an aerobic step or walking up and down. The exercises are as follows:

  • Normal breathing
  • Deep breathing
  • Turning head from side to side
  • Moving head up and down
  • Talking – either reading a specific poem called the Rainbow Passage or counting from 1 to 100
  • Bending over
  • Normal breathing

As the exercises are taking place, the PortaCount is feeding results to the computer showing if the mask fails during any of the exercises. If it shows to have failed even on one exercise, the mask does not fit correctly, and the test can be abandoned, and a new mask tested.

The other type of test is called Qualitative. This does not require an expensive machine but requires a hood and some Bitrex solution (similar to the product that helps to stop nail biting). This type of test is more suited to the disposable type masks.

In the same way as the other method, you will need to check the face mask for CE markings and check for any tears or imperfections before the mask is put on. Again they should not smoke or eat prior to the test and should be clean shaven. Once the mask is in place correctly, you check for any gaps around the nose area to see if there is a good seal. Once the mask appears to be fitting comfortably, the test can begin.

Firstly, the hood is placed over the head without the face mask being on and a weakened concentration of Bitrex is pumped in to the hood via a small hole. This is to determine how sensitive the subject is to taste. Initially 10 sprays will be put in and asked if they can taste the solution. If they can taste it, that becomes their sensitivity level. If they don’t, a further 10 sprays are put in, up to 30 in total.

Once their sensitivity has been established, the face mask is placed back on and the hood is replaced.

The same seven exercises as in the Quantitative procedure are carried out during the test whilst a stronger concentrate of the Bitrex solution is pumped in to the hood. If the person’s sensitivity level was 10 for example, you would spray in 10 pumps of solution and after 30 seconds, you would pump in another 5 sprays. If it was 20, you would pump in an extra 10 and so on.

Once they have completed all the exercises, a ‘break seal’ test is conducted to ensure they can taste the Bitrex once the mask is pulled away from the face.

If they have successfully finished the exercises without having tasted the Bitrex, then the face mask is fitted correctly. If at any time they can taste it, the test is terminated, and a different mask can be tested.

All the information is recorded on a sheet with the type of face mask fitted and the results of the test. A certificate can then be sent to HR to be kept on record.

Since completing this course, I have been fitting face masks for a paint factory and a ceramics factory and we are looking at completing the Fit2Fit Accreditation in due course.


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