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Face-fit testing for RPE

Why it matters in construction and manufacturing more than ever

We can face-fit test RPE for you.

If you work in construction, or manage a team of construction professionals, you almost certainly know that respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is vital when working in an environment that can produce breathable construction dusts.

However, what you may not know is just how important it is for that RPE to be fitted, tested, and reinspected to remain effective – not least of all because it’s a legal requirement to do so.

RPE is one of the most common and effective control measures against construction dusts (though, not the only one) and, as we will explore, it’s now more important than ever to protect yourself from construction dusts.


We need to take construction dusts seriously

As you may already know, RPE filters the air we breathe in of airborne contaminants. On a construction site, or in manufacturing, these range from welding and chemical fumes (such as you might find in paint) to other construction dusts.

These construction dusts are generated by all sorts of normal site activities – from sanding wood to cutting tiles or paving blocks.

They are more common than you might think.

It may sound obvious that these can be harmful, but a HSE campaign involving over 1,000 inspections in 2023 revealed that a significant number of professionals don’t just fail to protect themselves with RPE or other control measures – they aren’t always aware that they are creating these harmful dusts in the first place.

    • Dusts are easy to create, even when you don’t think you are engaged in a hazardous activity. For example, simply dropping cement or plaster into mixers can create a cloud of dust.

Even in small amounts, breathing in these dusts over an extended period of time can lead to serious respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, silicosis, lung cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

These conditions are not rare: they claim 12,000 lives each year and create 19,000 new cases of breathing problems annually.

The only way to prevent these issues is to control them. This is where RPE enters the equation.

Where does RPE fit in?

In many cases, we cannot see these construction dusts, and the particulate matter is often so fine that we won’t know that we are breathing them in.

In any case, it’s unsafe to breathe in even a miniscule amount:

    • The workplace exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica (RCS, which can be generated by cutting concrete) is less than the size of a grain of sand (1mg/m3 in an 8-hour period).

For this reason, we are required to carry out a COSHH assessment (along with any other assessments for harmful substances, such as lead-based paints), and prepare controls for working in a hazardous environment.

As you know, one of these controls is RPE.

RPE is designed to stop all inhalation of harmful airborne dusts generated in construction and manufacturing environments through filtration.

However, it is thought that up to half of all wearers of RPE are still breathing in harmful substances, meaning that for many, RPE isn’t serving its purpose.

For it to work effectively – and to save lives – it needs to be face-fit tested.

What is face-fit testing for RPE, and why is it needed?

COSHH requires that those who may be exposed to construction dusts must have adequate RPE tested and fitted to their face by a competent fitter.

Simply put, if your RPE isn’t proven to fit your face it can ‘leak’, meaning you risk breathing in hazardous airborne substances.

    • Key: You may conduct a ‘pre-use wearer seal check’ of your RPE before you start work – however, this isn’t a substitute for face-fit testing.

Masks save lives, and it is important that they are face-fit tested: one size of mask doesn’t fit all face shapes, and even something such as having a beard can prevent a seal against dusts being made.

Moreover, there are significant penalties for failing to comply. Already in 2024, a single fine for £67,000 was issued following the tragic loss of life of a worker who was exposed to hazardous chemicals, with HSE citing inadequate RPE as one of the influencing factors.

    • Reminder: Employers have the responsibility to ensure their staff are provided and fit with RPE and trained in its use.

In any case, it’s important to remember that RPE is just one of the methods needed to control exposure to harmful airborne substances. However, it is critical, and it’s easy to get right – or wrong.

If you are an employer or individual contractor that needs to ensure that they have compliant, safe and effective RPE, AEC is a competent provider of face-fit testing services and highly protective P3 masks (respirators).

Make no mistake, airborne construction dusts are a significant health hazard – and while they may not appear to be the safety priority that falling, tripping or machine hazards may be, this underestimation is exactly what makes them so hazardous.

Getting RPE right is often the most simple and effective way of looking after your or your staff’s health, but if you don’t know whether you may need face-fit testing, simply call our team at 0203 384 6175 or email us, and we can provide information.



* AEC is UKAS accredited for asbestos surveys, air testing and bulk sample analysis only.

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