15 September 2016 | By Adam Gomes
Making sure your safety mask fits properly seems obvious, but for years the one-size-fits-all approach was used and most people didn't give a second thought about mask fitting and that the wearer was fully protected, says Adam Gomes, health, safety, quality and environment manager for Altius VA Ltd.
Many people working in FM will at some point use respiratory protective equipment such as an FFP3 (filtering facepiece) disposable mask. This can be for tasks such as cutting wood, going into infectious areas to maintain equipment, or working with asbestos - to mention but a few.
Nowadays, organisations are endorsing mask fit testing on their sites. But some are failing in their approach to fit testing, normally because they are unaware of what is expected.
What are my legal duties?
The Health & Safety Executive's website states: "The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1996 require you to provide and maintain a safe working environment, so far as is reasonably practicable."
This sets out the basic requirement to keep a safe working environment but specific duty on respiratory protective equipment falls under the following regulations:
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002
- Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012:7
- Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002:8
- Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999:9
- Confined Spaces
- Regulations 1997
- Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
What should I do?
Carry out a risk assessment and then look at the previous regulations to see if these relate to the work being carried out. Normally there will be other methods you can put in place initially to eliminate or reduce the hazard, such as LEVs (Local Exhaust Ventilation). But if these are not possible, then as a last form of control measure, masks should be used.
Once it has been identified that mask fit testing is required then you should either hire a competent person such as a trained consultant to carry out the fit testing and implement the procedures or look at training an employee and making them competent through an accredited course. Once they are competent, then they need to implement a fit-testing regime in the company.
Policies are key to helping you implement this, but while you could add in a section on fit testing into your current health and safety policy, I'd advise creating a specific policy surrounding respiratory protective equipment to clarify what is required of managers and employees. This will help you to endorse the scheme and at the same time you can expand on the information.
Staff education is vital to obtain buy-in from them. Highlighting the dangers to their health that can be present from not wearing a correctly fitted mask really helps people understand why the company has brought the procedure in. This can be carried out in the form of toolbox talks, videos, one-to-one chats and/or posters. Refresher training is also important to help to remind the staff how to correctly wear the face mask.
The more the staff know, the more likely they are to buy into the initiative and embrace it.
There are many hazards out there, such as silica dust, asbestos and fumes that can cause serious health problems if breathed in, but through the use of an adequate and well-fitting face mask and other preventive methods, risks can be eliminated or reduced.
Adam Gomes HSQE manager for Altius VA