Ear loop ‘respirators’ deemed not fit for purpose
A new safety notice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been issued to RPE wearers and PPE providers stating that ear loop masks do not provide equivalent protection to tight fitting respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
New research, undertaken by the HSE, has found that ear loop masks (those that use elasticated bands around the wearer’s ears) do not provide equivalent protection to tight fitting RPE, even when worn with a clip or ‘snugger’.
The research was undertaken by the HSE following a marked increase in PPE manufacturers mislabelling ear-looped masks as FFP2 respirators meeting a P2 standard.
Through laboratory testing, the HSE discovered that the majority of those tested were unable to achieve a seal whilst wearing an ear-looped mask – thus rendering them ineffective as RPE.
If an employee is required to wear tight-fitting RPE in the workplace, it is law in the UK that they must first pass a fit test on an adequate respirator to ensure it is suitable for the individual. If a tight fitting respirator does not seal against the user’s face, they may be inadvertently inhaling harmful contaminants through the gaps when breathing in.
Since ear-looped masks are very unlikely to achieve a consistent seal, they will not provide the wearer with the correct level of protection required, even if the mask is made of a suitable filter material and has a CE or UKCA mark.
The HSE have advised that all dutyholders revisit their risk assessments and assess whether or not their RPE provisions are adequate and suitable for the users and activities required.
If ear-looped masks are being used, the HSE strongly advises you find something else.