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All masks don’t fit all faces!

Experienced face fit testers will already be well versed on this, but we hope this article will give some insight to those who may not undertake face fit testing on such a regular basis….

What we need to consider, when conducting either a Qualitative or Quantitative face fit test is that we’re essentially ascertaining one thing; does the mask create an effective seal to the face or not. BUT there’s sooooo much more to selecting “Adequate and Suitable” RPE than just “does it fit”? (We’ve given insights into that previously Blog | 1974 Rapport Ltd | United Kingdom)

Generally speaking, and historically, masks produced for use in the UK have typically been designed for “average” male European faces, whatever an average face might be! So, essentially average build, average nose, average jaw, average complexion, average cheeks, average head or face size. During the pandemic, manufacturers reacted to this so there are now far more options available and there are some masks specifically designed for smaller or more feminine facial features. This male bias has been a problem for female workers when it comes to any PPE or workwear for a long time so it’s great to see raised awareness and improvements being made!

Below we will generally talk about Filtering Facepieces (FFPs – AKA disposable masks”) however some of the information is applicable to reusable respirators.

Typically speaking, when fit tested, we would expect higher percentage pass rates and higher fit factors from reusable RPE Vs Disposable RPE. In our opinion this is due to several factors: increased contact area, more supple / forgiving materials, a more “natural” shape, better / adjustable straps (and even ease of consistent donning) … or if we consider when quantitative testing, a greater particle filtration rate Vs disposable giving rise to higher fit factors.

As with anything in life, quality equipment generally gives better results; sadly, you can drive a bus through the gap in quality of some masks, despite being manufactured to the same European Standard (EN149:2001). Whilst quality products are more likely to give quality results, lesser products are more likely to give less favourable results.

So, what do we look for in a quality disposable mask?...

  • A high degree of elasticity (think “twang!”) in the straps.

  • We prefer cup shaped masks over fold flat masks.

  • Strap adjustment, independently adjustable upper and lower straps ideally.

  • Nasal strip, a high-quality metal insert that will remember and hold its shape (or a mask that is naturally tightly pinched around the bridge of the nose).

  • What material(s) actually contact the face. Where the filter membrane contacts the face, it can facilitate inward leakage, a foam insert across the bridge of the nose will improve this, a 360 degree insert even more so!

Enough about the masks, let's talk about the face!

So, we’re looking for an “average face” (and we’ll be as PC as possible!)… So, what do us face fit testers ideally like in a perfectly average face? Average nose, smooth complexion, rounded facial features, average cheeks, a bit of “puppy fat”; no facial injury, disfigurement, scaring, dermal inserts, facial piercings.

When talking about masks, one of the critical distances being a measurement from the bridge of the nose to the underside of the chin… but there’s so much more!

Some key factors to consider with facial features…

  • An approximation of size, big faces need big masks, small faces need small masks!

  • The complexion and excessive “wrinkles” that may appear with life experience.

  • Body weight, where we have thin, slender, slim, petite, or gaunt wearers; we may struggle to a chieve a pass on all but specially designed products.

  • The nose: if we have a large nose, a pronounced nose, a broken nose, a thin nose, a shallow bridge to the nose, we again may struggle to achieve a pass result.

  • Facial hair, that an easy one. We will NEVER test anyone with facial hair that contacts the seal of the mask as this is the wrong type of RPE for the individual.

As mentioned in the title, it really is as simple that "all masks don’t fit all faces" and sometimes there is no obvious or apparent reason for this; it is therefore essential that you select a competent and experienced, ideally fit2fit approved face fit tester and have access to a wide range of RPE to identify the right mask for the individual.

In closing, any face fit tester worth their salt will look to identify ill-fitting RPE as opposed to just trying to offer pass results, robust testing will identify ill-fitting RPE,

One final reminder, face fit testing isn't just a legal obligation, it's a moral obligation!

As ever, for any assistance, advice, opinion or guidance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Stay safe and thanks for reading.

Nathan Wilkinson-Jones - Director 1974 Rapport Ltd



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