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Full Face Vs Half Face "Masks"

For many “mask” wearers across a wide range of sectors, half face reusable Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is the default stance. Its’ cost effective, offers adequate protection from many common airborne hazards, is readily available and therefore widely selected. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but could there be a better or alternative option in full face RPE?...

In this article, we’ll consider the pros and cons of tight-fitting full face RPE Vs Half face RPE and to keep things simple, we’ll stick with non-powered devices.

Firstly, we’ll discuss the similarities. Both reply on a seal to the face, both require the wearer to be clean shaven, both can accommodate either particulate / gas & vapour / combination filters, both should only be worn for up to one hour (many factors to consider on recommended continuous wear times); both require a face fit test; half face RPE can utilise either Qualitative or Quantitative testing but full face RPE MUST be tested using the Quantitative method.

So with that in mind, we’ll discuss a few differences between the two devices, stating some of the more obvious points first…

  • Full face RPE simply put offers higher levels of protection, a P3 half face mask will offer an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 20 whereas a P3 full face mask offers an APF of 40 (predominantly due to a better face seal). Higher levels of protection must be a very good thing, right?

  • Eye protection, half face RPE obviously does not incorporate eye protection whereas full face does, making it ideal for working with gasses, vapours, mists, fumes, splashes, and impacts. Half face RPE could accommodate independent eye protection however protective (or corrective) eyewear could compromise the performance of half face RPE and or vice versa. Protective or corrective eyewear simply may not be compatible with half face RPE, an assessment in conjunction with a face fit test should be utilised to confirm either way.

  • Similarly, corrective glasses cannot be worn with full face RPE as the side arms would compromise the seal of the mask; internal lens holders fitted wit the required prescription lens should be sourced but this can easily outweigh the cost of the device itself! Corrective eyewear could be worn with half face RPE but again an assessment and face fit test should be utilised to confirm this. I find that larger masks, smaller faces, larger lensed eyewear and varifocals can often prove problematic. Speak to the wearers and trial several combinations.

  • Staying on a similar thought pattern; head protection may be compromised by full face RPE (and vice versa) but not so much by half face RPE (and again vice versa); consideration to this must again be given.

  • Half face RPE is very “on and off-able” (as the old British Gas adverts would say). It’s pretty quick and easy to consistently don and doff half face RPE in comparison to full face; ideal for sporadic / short term use or where it needs to be removed for example to communicate, to take on refreshments or for respite. Opposingly, half face RPE could more readily be dislodged during use Vs full face masks. I know which I would rather wear if I needed to be safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t budge!

  • Cost: it is a consideration whether we like it or not. Full face RPE is more expensive for sure, but not wildly more expensive all things considered; and we are talking about the final line of defence against lung full (or face full) of something nasty, we shouldn’t really be penny pinching here!

  • Certain situations, substances and activities just lend themselves better to full face masks; working overhead, dropping ceilings, drilling, abrasive wheel use, spraying / misting, abrasive blasting, soft stripping, “dirtier” works, infection prevention, irritants, allergens, bacterial / microorganisms / fomites... any activity where eye protection is of paramount consideration.

  • Communication: both full and half face RPE can considerably hamper verbal communication, half face RPE is possibly marginally better for two-way verbal communication.

  • Comfort: this is down to personal preference, for me personally, especially during continuous or heavy use, full face RPE puts less pressure on the orinasal area and this can often more comfortable in my opinion… but I do have a delicate little nose!

  • Hair line: some hairlines / hair styles / sideburns can interfere with the seal on full face masks when compared to half face masks. Whilst it’s maybe not all that unreasonable for wearers of half face masks to shave the face, it’s probably more unreasonable for full face mask wearers to shave back their hairline or scalp!

As with any RPE it MUST be “Adequate” (right for the Hazard) and “Suitable” (right for the task, environment, and the individual) but in my opinion, full face masks are often overlooked where they may possibly, or even probably be the better option. Why may this be?... convenience, cost or a just lack of awareness and lazy risk assessment. Maybe this article could prompt a bit of thought or discussion on the matter….

As ever, please get in touch if we may ever be of assistance.


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