Seal the deal: The power of respirator fit testing against hardwood dust

1 Face fit testing ensures proper respirator fit

An expert from G&L Consultancy discusses the critical importance of wearing a respirator during activities that produce hardwood dust, as well as ways to safeguard your health.

While some hazards are more obvious – such as speeding cars, falls from heights, or being struck by objects – there exists an entire world of smaller risks that often go unnoticed. These subtle dangers, though less conspicuous, can still have significant consequences. Studies suggest that thousands of workers die or develop life-changing illnesses every year due to exposure to harmful substances.

Many industries produce harmful by-products, which if inhaled, can cause significant damage to your health. Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is designed to safeguard your lungs from foreign particles, fibres, vapours, mists and gases. One very overlooked industry is woodworking; hardwood dust is a known carcinogen, and this can be released whenever sawing, sanding or otherwise significantly disturbing wood.

Stressing the next point: not only is this a risk for professionals frequently working with wood in a way that creates dust, but it also applies to DIYers and novice woodworkers. Selecting a respirator and ensuring a proper fit are vital steps to protect yourself from the dangers of inhaling hardwood dust. While we know that hardwood dust can cause cancer, one of the more short-term side-effects is asthma.


2 Qualitative face fit testing

Back to basics: types of respirators & testing

As a minimum, an FFP3 disposable mask would be a good option to protect against dust and particles in a home DIY, or project setting. These are readily available in most DIY stores. For those frequently engaged in industries cutting wood, a more suitable option would be a half-face or full-face respirator to offer the most protection.

Similar to choosing a pair of shoes in the correct size, an adequately fitted respirator is essential to ensure it functions properly and provides optimal protection.

Legislation mandates that fit testing be carried out if a risk assessment identifies the need for tight-fitting RPE. At G&L Consultancy, as specialists in asbestos management, we understand the risks associated with working with hazardous materials.

We offer onsite face fit testing throughout the UK, and at our offices in Southwest England and Northern Ireland. Our two forms of fit testing include quantitative and qualitative testing. Quantitative testing, suitable for all respirator types – including disposable ones – involves the TSI Portacount Plus Respirator Fit Tester – a more accurate method (photo 1). The latter test option – the qualitative test – is a pass/fail test, which relies on the wearer’s response to a bitter-tasting aerosol called Bitrex. This is suitable for disposable and half-mask wearers (photo 2).

What DOES optimal face fit look like?

Some individuals may not realise that achieving the best fit requires being clean-shaven. For those who can’t part with their facial hair, a powered respirator hood would eliminate the need to shave, although this option is significantly more expensive. A good seal also depends on the wearer’s face shape; if there’s been substantial weight change or dental work carried out, the seal created around the respirator may be interrupted and not work as effectively. In which case, a re-test will be required if you’ve already had a face fit before.


3 Quantitative face fit testing

Other points to consider when showing up for a face fit test are that candidates should not smoke or vape for at least an hour before the test and mustn’t eat or drink – except water – for at least 30 minutes prior to the test. These precautions are crucial, as they may lead to inaccurate test results.

key takeaway

If working with wood, consider dust exposure and how it may harm your health. If you’d like advice on, or to be supplied and fitted with a respirator, contact G&L Consultancy.

G&L Consultancy
Unit 5A, Chelston Business Park, Castle Road
Wellington, Somerset
TA21 9JQ
01823 443 898