Ear loop masks ‘do not protect people’ as RPE

Respirators and masks which rely on ear loops do not protect people “adequately” when used as tight fitting respiratory protective equipment (RPE), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says.

An example of a respirator/mask with ear loops (picture: Shutterstock)

The government health and safety agency issued a safety notice relating to ear loop respirators in April.

Masks which rely on ear loops include those provided with clips, ‘snuggers’ or other means of tightening the fit, the safety notice says.

The HSE told letsrecycle.com that the safety alert relates to anyone required to wear respiratory protective equipment as identified by employers in their assessment made under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. 

This includes those carrying out work activities which may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, gas, or fumes, such as those who cut wood or stone. 

The HSE added that it has seen an increase in the variety of ear loop respirators and masks, “which indicate they offer the protection provided by FFP2.”

Concern

The Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade association representing the private waste sector, told letsrecycle.com there had been concern during the Covid-19 pandemic that ear loop masks were being marketed as FFP2 respirators.

However, it said it was not currently aware of ear loop masks being used in the sector as RPE.

FFP2 products rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face, the HSE says, which “cannot be achieved” with a respirator or mask relying on ear loops to hold it in place.

Fit

The HSE asks ‘dutyholders’ to revisit their risk assessment undertaken under the regulations to consider whether their RPE provision is “adequate” and “suitable for the user and the activity to be undertaken”.

All tight-fitting RPE should be fit tested by a competent assessor as part of the selection process to provide adequate protection for individual wearers, the HSE says.

The HSE says its research shows that “only in a very few cases” was a face fit test for ear loop mask/respirators passed.

The safety notice does not affect surgical masks or other face coverings which are used for a different purpose and are not required to be tight-fitting, the HSE says.

Waste sector

The ESA’s lead officer for health and safety, Stephen Freeland, told letsrecycle.com: “We are not aware of ear loop masks being used in the sector as respiratory protective equipment.

“While there was some concern during the pandemic that these and similar products were being marketed as FFP2 respirators, a concerted effort by HSE, WISH and others successfully helped raised awareness in the industry that these masks were not a suitable substitute for properly tested, tight-fitting RPE.”

The Asbestos Removal Contractors Association, the trade association for asbestos management services, told letsrecycle.com it could not comment on the notice because “ear loop respirators are not used in licensed asbestos removal.”

Related link
Ear loop respirators/masks do not provide protection as tight fitting RPE 

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