Fit testing face masks to avoid transmission: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Fit testing face masks to avoid transmission during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Respiratory protective equipment

Tight-fitting respirators (such as disposable FFP3 masks and reusable half masks) rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face. A face fit test should be carried out to ensure the respiratory protective equipment (RPE) can protect the wearer.

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:

  • both the fit tester and those being fit tested should wash their hands before and after the test in accordance with NHS guidelines
  • 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 manufacturer to avoid damaging the mask)
  • test facepieces that cannot be adequately disinfected (e.g. disposable half masks) should not be used by more than one individual. 
  • fit testers should wear disposable gloves when undertaking cleaning of the 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 (mask)

The wearer should clean the inside and outside of the mask using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe under the fit tester’s instruction and supervision.

Inside and outside (where held) of hood used for qualitative fit tests

The fit tester should clean the inside and outside (where held) of the hood between each test using a suitable disinfectant wipe that won’t damage the visor and wearing disposable gloves.

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

Only touch used tubing when wearing gloves. Clean the mask end of the tube with a suitable disinfectant wipe after use.

Have a stock of spare tubes (to allow used tubes to dry); or ensure the end of used tubing is placed in a wad of tissue if removing the condensate between tests by blowing out with compressed/canned air.

Fit testing adaptors and sampling probe

Clean at the same time as cleaning the mask following the fit test using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe, under the instruction and supervision of the fit tester.

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

This should be cleaned by the wearer at the same time as they clean the inside of the mask using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe following their fit test, under the instruction and supervision of the fit tester.

Filters

Although, the wearers exhaled air does not pass through the filters used when testing half and full facemasks, they may be re-used and handled between tests and so should be wiped using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe.

Further advice on fit testing

A 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 RPE 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 re-testing, and you don’t need one if there are no changes in these circumstances.

More detailed guidance is available on the respiratory protective equipment section of our HSE's website.