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HSE Safety Alert for Ear Loop Respirators and Masks

03 May 2022

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a new safety alert advising that respirators/masks that rely on ear loops do not provide the necessary protection when compared to those that use head straps to achieve an appropriate seal.

There has been an increase in respirators/masks with ear loops that indicate that they offer the same protection as FFP2 respirators. However, new research, conducted by the HSE, has demonstrated that respirators which rely on ear loops (including those that are provided with additional means of tightening the mask to hold it in place, often known as 'snuggers') do not protect people adequately when used as tight-fitting respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Both FFP2 and FFP3 respirators depend on there being a good seal with the wearer's face in order to protect the user's respiratory system. The lack of a tight fit and good seal may lead to the creation of small gaps on the face which will mean that the respirator is not providing the necessary protection. This could increase the risk to the wearer's health, or even life, if the mask is being specified in high-risk areas.

As part of the RPE selection process, individual wearers should be fit-tested to ensure a good seal and therefore adequate protection. The HSE research showed that in most cases respirators with ear loops did not pass face-fit testing, despite being UKCA or CE marked.

The HSE therefore recommends that ear loop mask/respirators are not used as RPE in the workplace and that duty holders revisit their Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 risk assessment and review their Respiratory Management Programme.

Adam Willcock, Category Manager for PPE at Arco, said:

"Arco does not supply respirators with ear loops. We first became aware of this issue in July 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic, while we were trying to source FFP2 and FFP3 masks. We have a wealth of experience in respiratory protection and have one of the largest BSIF Fit2Fit accredited teams in the UK. We became aware of the issue of the lack of an adequate seal and failures with face-fit testing. We offer a range of respirators that use head straps to hold them in place, are fully compliant with the relevant standards and are UKCA or CE marked. We always advise our customers to use these and to undertake face-fit testing to protect their workers."

Find out more about the HSE alert here.

See Arco’s full range of FFP2 respirators with head straps here and learn about our face-fit testing here.