Breathe easy

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The importance of protecting workers against inhaling hazardous dust and fumes is not a new topic of debate. 2018 will see the introduction of the new ISO 16975-3:2017 – a new standard specifically designed to provide guidance on how to conduct fit testing of tight-fitting respiratory protective devices.

For some 2,000 years, the potential dangers of dust have been recognised. As far back as the first century, Roman miners were recommended to use an animal bladder to protect themselves from inhaling lead oxide dust. In the 16th century, Leonardo da Vinci advised the use of a wet woven cloth to protect against toxic agents of chemical warfare.

Fast-forward to the present day and the issue remains a hot topic of debate and a fundamental plank of international safety legislation.

So much so, a new standard specifically designed to provide guidance on how to conduct fit testing of tight-fitting Respiratory Protective Devices (RPD) (ISO 16975-3:2017) is to be implemented.

Protecting workers against the threat of breathing in dust and airborne particles is essential to remove the risk of them contracting respiratory-related illness and disease, such as lung cancer, silicosis, occupational asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Prevention is critical when it comes to respiratory protection and respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is key to safeguarding workers. In many cases, workers without proper protection and exposed to dust and silicas will not necessarily show the signs of damage or disease until years later.

Prevention is critical when it comes to respiratory protection and respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is key to safeguarding workers. Photograph: iStock

Higher-risk environments

By the nature of the material used, some sectors have a higher prevalence of dust and respiratory hazards including:

  • Construction, building and demolition—through concrete, stone, brick and mortar
  • Quarrying, mining and slate processing
  • Potteries, ceramics, brick and tile manufacturing
  • Foundries
  • Refractory production and cutting
  • Concrete product manufacture
  • Engineering
  • Architectural masonry manufacture
  • Kitchen cabinet and worktop manufacture
  • Grit and abrasive blasting, particularly on sandstone
  • Food
  • Carpentry
  • Recycling

For workers that are exposed to dusts, mists and fumes, the ideal scenario is to eradicate any possible contact between the worker and the dust hazard. Where they cannot be eradicated, workers need the right level of respiratory protection. The most common form of protection is a disposable respirator.

Selecting the right dust mask

All dust masks and respirators provided for work environments must be approved to the appropriate standard and marked with the latest EN standard, which for disposable respirators is EN 149: 2001 +A1 2009.

FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 signify different classes of respirator, offering varying levels of protection to the wearer (assuming they fit properly and are used correctly). FFP stands for filtering face piece. The higher the number the greater the protection so an FFP3 respirator should be used for all of the higher risk environments listed above.

Such respirators are designed to filter out particulates such as dust, mists and fumes. Even if you have this information, finding a suitable respirator is not simply a matter of choosing a model you like the look of or buying the cheapest.

Wider considerations include:

  • Identify type and level of exposure
  • Evaluating airborne hazards in the workplace (or workshop)
  • Choose a disposable respirator based on FFP rating
  • Choose a comfortable and convenient model
  • When in doubt go with a higher level of protection.

Not all faces are the same and neither are disposable respirators. You might need to try different makes or sizes to find one that fits without leaking around the seal and letting dust in.

The only way you can know if the seal is good enough is by having a proper face fit test. Currently this is also the only way of meeting legal requirements.

Face-fit testing

Having worked closely with the BSIF and HSE in the development of a suitable accreditation scheme for Face Fit Testing, Alpha Solway had the first ’Fit2Fit’ accredited RPE fit test provider, now recognised within the HSE 282/28 Fit Testing Guidance Notes.

The accreditation confirms the competency of a particular individual to perform fit testing on tight fitting face pieces. Training in the proper use and care of respirators has been mandatory in the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations since 1989.

When it is launched, the arrival of the new ISO 16975-3:2017 standard will be another welcome addition to the ongoing challenge of helping protect workers through effective fit testing.

Designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the seal between the wearer’s face and the respiratory interface specific requirements for conducting RPE Fit Testing outlined in the new standard include:

  • Qualifications/competences of fit test operators
  • Specific fit testing procedures
  • Interpretation of fit test results
  • Record keeping.

Driving the message

Undoubtedly ‘Fit2Fit’ has had a positive effect on industry, driving awareness of the importance of properly fitted respiratory protective equipment. But there is still much more that needs to be done to drive this message home.

The reality is that many people across industry are still not aware of it or its full implications. Even more importantly we need to emphasise the message that effective fit testing is not simply a matter of providing RPE that ticks the performance box, but vitally is about the specific individual using it and the effectiveness of the fit it delivers.

Properly protecting the breathing of workers is essential as the risk of exposure can be life threatening.

Richard Beardsley is Area sales manager at Alpha Solway



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