Compatibility - RPE and Eyewear
It’s about time that we discussed this issue as it seems to be a near constant failing.
Simply put, eyewear can compromise the performance of Tight Fitting RPE (masks), and RPE can compromise the performance of eyewear.
Tight fitting masks (FFP3, half masks, full face) all rely on a seal to the wearers face, corrective or protective eyewear can compromise this seal. Equally, protective, or corrective eyewear needs to be in a specific position to protect or function as intended, the RPE can alter this position. In either instance, said devices can be rendered useless which kind of defeats the point of wearing them.
Protective or corrective Eyewear MUST BE COMPATIBLE with the mask and vice versa. The same can be said for other items of above the neck PPE* but we’re sticking with eyewear and “masks” for this article.
*Compatibility with multiple items of PPE and workwear is also a massive issue for that matter!
Remember when your glasses kept fogging during covid when wearing a face covering, this indicates outward leakage from the mask, i.e. the mask probably isn't creating a seal to the face. If your glasses / goggles are fogging when wearing RPE then it’s a good indication that the mask has not sealed and therefore may not protect.
There are only three variables here; the face, the eyewear and the RPE; only two of these variables can be altered!
We need to prove that the RPE has not been compromised; therefore, we MUST face fit test with the half face mask and eyewear in the intended position to prove or disprove if the device remains effective.
We’ll start with half face RPE.
Employers or fit testers should query the wearer as to whether they are expected to wear any protective or corrective eyewear with the mask. Once established, the user should wear both devices and a visual assessment should be undertaken to ensure that the eyewear is serving its intended function. Namely do safety glasses / goggles, still sufficiently protect the eyes, or if corrective lenses, then can the wearer still see!
If we arrive at what appears to be a feasible and functional solution, the wearer MUST be fit tested wearing both devices; specific details being recorded on the fit test certificate. If a pass is achieved, then the individual must wear the devices correctly and consistently going forward.
In the event that the eyewear doesn’t function as intended, then we can try to adjust the position of the mask (usually downwards) and then proceed to face fit test. Or we try alternative eyewear.
If the eyewear has compromised the function of the “mask” (i.e. a failed face fit test result) then we need to consider trying an alternative mask or alternative eyewear, repeating the above assessment process until a solution is reached.
It has to be noted that Qualitative testing does not lend itself well to conducting several repeat tests due to the elapsed time required between tests for the aerosol taste to clear; so much so that it becomes impractical in such instances. Quantitative testing would be by far the better (and more accurate) option.
It can be a real struggle to reach a solution, in particular with larger / bulkier masks and glasses / goggles, especially when worn on smaller faces.
There are however now some fantastic safety glasses that are designed to be worn with “masks”; the Moldex Adapt for example have a fantastic profile and perform exceptionally well in many many instances, a great solution.
Where it is proving difficult to find a combination that works then you may seek to consider contact lenses to correct vision or a visor* to offer eye protection; Powered Air Purifying Respirators can also provide the required level of eye protection and or facilitate the use of spectacles.
Some mask manufacturers have also produced orinasal RPE that incorporates eye protection however fit test results and comfort can be variable. These devices ARE NOT classified as full face RPE and so sill only offer an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 20, they can however therefore be tested using the qualitative or quantitative methods.
*For Qualitative testing, the visor could reduce the aerosol concentration surrounding the mask and therefore further consideration should be given as to how to conduct a robust face fit test.
As suggested above, we can change the mask or the eyewear (or how they are worn) or we can change both. What we cannot change is the face, nor can we allow workers to be unprotected from eye injury or inhaled hazards.
Full face RPE (tight fitting)
Correctly specified tight fitting full face RPE can offer the required level of eye protection and can even be specified with polycarbonate or glass visor depending on the environment that it is to be deployed in. It cannot however be worn with standard corrective spectacles as the side arms will compromise the seal of the mask.
Please note that full face masks MUST be tested using the Quantitative method.
Where people are expected to wear full face RPE and need corrective lenses, we could consider; PAPR, contact lenses or to purchase internal lens holders with the correct prescription lenses inserted, the latter however could prove to be quite costly and sometimes complex, especially for vary focal lenses.
If we cannot find a solution then we need to take the person away from the hazard, implement PAPR or control the hazards at source... which really should be the initial consideration!
We see many employers (and face fit testers) that give little to no consideration as to the above issues with compatibility. We feel that a gentle reminder may be needed; a face fit test is not just something to be passed, it is there to ensure that the mask offers protection in real life situations. We therefore need to replicate these situations for the fit test to identify devices that are compatible and actually do protect the wearer when needed!
A final reminder that faces fit testing MUST be undertaken by a competent face fit tester, selecting a fit2fit approved tester ensures that your tester is competent AND they are much more likely to consider (and resolve) issues posed by eyewear compatibility.
If we can ever be of assistance on any matters mentioned above, or RPE / face fit testing in general then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.