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Fit testing face masks to avoid transmission during the coronavirus pandemic

Tight-fitting respirators (such as disposable FFP3 masks and reusable half masks) rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face.

To ensure that respiratory protective equipment (RPE) will protect the wearer:

  • a face fit test should be carried out the first time a worker uses a particular type of respirator
  • the wearer should carry out a pre-use seal check or fit check, which they should repeat every time they put a respirator on

When carrying out a face fit test during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, testers and wearers should take additional measures to minimise the risk of transmission.

Putting on a respirator and fit checking

The following poster and video give guidance on how to put on disposable respirators and how to do a pre-use seal check or fit check.

Face fit test

A face fit test should be carried out before people wear RPE for the first time. Inadequate fit can reduce the protection provided and lead to immediate or long-term ill health or can even put the wearer’s life in danger.

A fit test should be repeated whenever there is a change to the RPE type, size, model or material, or whenever there is a change to the circumstances of the wearer that could alter the fit of the RPE, for example:

  • weight loss or gain
  • substantial dental work
  • any facial changes (scars, moles, effects of ageing etc) around the face seal area
  • facial piercings
  • introduction or change in other head-worn personal protective equipment (PPE)

There is no stipulated frequency for retesting, and you don’t need to retest if there are no changes in these circumstances.

Find out more about face fit testing.

Minimise the risk of transmission

People who have symptoms of COVID-19 or are isolating in accordance with government guidance should not attend a face fit test.

To minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19 during face fit testing the following additional measures should be taken:

  • fit testers should follow government advice on social distancing, as they can make observations from a distance and deliver any instructions verbally
  • those being fitted should keep their respirators on, as much as possible to minimise risk to the tester
  • both the fit tester and those being fit tested should wash their hands before and after the test
  • those being fit tested with non-disposable masks should clean the mask themselves before and immediately after the test using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe (check with the manufacturer to avoid damaging the mask)
  • test facepieces that cannot be adequately disinfected (for example disposable half masks) should not be used by more than one individual
  • fit testers should wear disposable gloves when cleaning tubes, hoods etc and ensure they remove gloves following the correct procedure (PDF) - Portable Document Format
  • immediately dispose of used gloves, disposable masks, cleaning wipes etc in a waste bin

Fit testers should familiarise themselves with the following potential contact points and actions to minimise transmission:

Contact points Action to minimise transmission

Inside and outside of respirator

After a fit test using non-disposable RPE, provide a suitable surface cleaning disinfectant wipe to the person fit tested and show them how to clean the inside and outside of the facepiece. Ensure they clean it well by providing them with clear instruction and supervising them.  

Qualitative fit testing kit:
Hood
Nebuliser
Test solution

After conducting a qualitative fit test on an individual and following the normal cleaning of the kit, ensure all parts of the fit testing kit which have the potential for the person being fit tested to have exhaled their breathe in very close proximity to it are suitably disinfected.

Use a suitable surface cleaning disinfectant wipe to disinfect both the inside and the outside of the fit testing hood, leave the hood to dry before reuse, to allow sufficient contact time to maximise effectiveness of the disinfectant.

The outlet of the nebuliser which is positioned inside the aperture of the fit testing hood during tests should also be suitably disinfected after each person. Disinfect the nebuliser by submerging in a disinfectant solution of the correct strength, for a sufficient contact time to ensure adequate disinfection.

Ensure that only the recommended volume of 5ml of the solutions are poured into the nebuliser saucers before each test and discard any remaining test solution remaining in the saucer at the end of each test.

Quantitative fit testing

Moisture from the wearer’s breath collected inside the ambient particle counting device tubing (ie for quantitative testing)

Clean and disinfect the tube with a suitable surface cleaning disinfectant wipe after every use. Allow tubes to dry before reuse or have a stock of spare tubes available for subsequent tests.

Contact points Action to minimise transmission

Quantitative fit testing

Fit testing adaptors and sampling probe

After a fit test, provide a suitable surface cleaning disinfectant wipe to the person fit tested and show them how to clean the fit testing adaptors and sampling probe. Ensure they clean it well by providing them with clear instruction and supervising them.  

Quantitative fit testing

Specific inner mask supplied by fit tester when fit testing powered RPE and the existing inner mask is replaced

After the fit test, provide a suitable surface cleaning disinfectant wipe to the person fit tested and show them how to clean the inside and outside of the facepiece. Ensure they clean it well by providing them with clear instructions and supervising them.

Filters

When wearing RPE, the wearer’s exhaled breath does not pass through the filters.

The filters will be handled during the test and therefore use a suitable surface cleaning disinfectant wipe on the surfaces of the plastic casing after each use.

Page last reviewed: 31 December 2020

Next review due: 29 January 2021

2020-11-02