Protecting Health Through Comfort
Statistics from the British Lung Foundation show that respiratory disease is the second biggest killer in the UK and deaths from occupational lung disease are rising rapidly1. Diversified technology company 3M has been concerned about inadequacies in the use of respiratory protection for some time and, consequently, has started to investigate the use of PPE in general, with specific interest in the level of comfort. Fundamentally, if PPE is uncomfortable or impedes the wearer’s job it is unlikely to be worn correctly for a sustained amount of time and therefore will not be able to deliver a consistent level of protection from potential hazards.
An independent report2 commissioned by 3M comprised interviews with 69 respiratory protective equipment (RPE) users, including health and safety managers. When asked to rate product attributes, protection and comfort were cited as the two most important features when selecting RPE.
Why is comfort important?
Every respirator has an assigned protection factor (APF). APF figures are designed to give a reasonable safety margin in the use of correctly selected respirators. If properly fitted and used, the actual protection received may well be higher than the APF. However, protection levels can drop dramatically when a respirator is not used, even for a short period of time.
For example, 3M technicians calculated3 that if an FFP2 respirator is removed for 10 per cent of the time - the equivalent of just 48 minutes in an 8 hour shift - the actual protection factor is almost halved.
Alan McArthur, Technical Specialist for 3M comments: "RPE is of no use if it is not worn and this applies to all PPE. It seems so obvious but if something is not comfortable the chances are it will be removed, putting workers at risk. As demonstrated by our research, this is being taken into consideration by decision makers much more, with comfort emerging as a key factor in RPE selection."
Solving the problem
As the leading manufacturer and supplier of PPE, 3M has the resources for significant research and development. Alan continues: "Our aim, as a global manufacturer of PPE, is to help people to be safer at work. The design of a product plays a huge part in its ability to deliver consistent protection. We have a team of committed people who can spend time researching new technologies and developing products. Support from our experienced technical team ensures that 3M products are developed with a firm understanding of any underlying issues such as comfort."
This significant research and development investment has lead to the creation of new products which use new technologies specifically to improve overall comfort. This ensures that PPE will be worn more consistently, helping to protect the health of workers.
Alan continues: "has to meet set standards but these don’t necessarily address comfort. It is also important to remember comfort is subjective - what is comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another. It is therefore impossible to change just one feature of a product so a range of technologies are used to improve overall comfort rather than just one particular aspect."
When developing new and improved PPE to address comfort, consideration is given to all aspects of the product. These include pressure from straps on respirators; headbands on hearing protection and the side arms of eye protection; the materials used and how these feel against the skin; shape and fit. However it is important to balance comfort with protection and develop products which are still fit for purpose and instill confidence in the user.
The new 3M 8300 series of respirators has been developed specifically to address the issue of comfort. The new design includes an M-shaped nose clip to make it easier to fit and be more comfortable around the nose; a super-soft cushioned inner lining and a soft waffle edge - all designed to encourage wearers to use the respirator continually whilst in a dusty environment.
Other features include:
- braided headbands that are colour-coded for easy protection level identification
- a robust outer shell developed for durability
- the innovative 3M Cool Flow Valve incorporated into certain models to reduce heat and moisture build-up, making the respirators more comfortable for workers to wear even in hot and humid conditions
- 3M Advanced Electret filter materials developed to help users breathe easily through the respirator, providing greater comfort
Making it fit
Once the matter of comfort has been addressed, there can also be an issue with equipment not being fitted properly. If equipment is ill-fitting, the wearer will still be risking potential health problems.
Alan highlights the problem: "Respirators with a tight fitting facepiece must only be used by clean shaven wearers. Users should also be fit tested to ensure the model of respirator chosen can seal well to their face."
HSE guidance on fit testing stipulates that where fit testing is required, it must be conducted by a competent person. Up until now, fit testers of RPE have not been accredited, making the selection of a competent person uncertain. There may be a lack of knowledge, skills, experience or understanding of fit testing, or these may have deteriorated over time.
Alan continues: "accreditation scheme for fit testers has recently been launched. The BSIF Fit2Fit accreditation scheme has been developed in collaboration with industry and the HSE. By substantially increasing the correct fitting of RPE, the aim is to significantly reduce instances of occupational ill-health."
The Fit2Fit scheme is designed to confirm the competency of any person performing face fit testing by passing an industry recognised exam, demonstrating that they have a thorough knowledge of the HSE guidance on fit testing and that they know how to fit test in practical circumstances.
Alan concludes: "3M sales representatives are leading the way and are all now fit test accredited. Although the scheme was aimed at commercial fit testers, the Fit2Fit scheme gives assurance of competency which will become expected. It was therefore important for our sales team to meet those standards and support the scheme."
Because comfort counts
There is a dauntingly wide range of PPE in the marketplace but through continued research and development, better products will continue to emerge at all levels of the market. As highlighted through 3M’s research, it is important that consumers can feel confident in the level of protection supplied by PPE but still be able to buy a better product, which addresses comfort, ultimately encouraging the user to wear the PPE for longer periods and not put themselves at risk.
For further advice visit www.3M.co.uk/ohes or contact the 3M Health and Safety Helpline which allows access to 3M specialists to assist with PPE enquiries, ensuring customers get the best product, support and value for money. The 3M Health and Safety Helpline is available on 0870 60 800 60 (UK) or 1800 320 500 (Ireland) during office hours, Monday to Friday. To request a free trial of a 3M 8300 Comfort Series Respirator please visit www.3M.co.uk/comfortcounts.
1Statistics from the British Lung Foundation:www.lunguk.org
2 SKP Analysis, 3M MFR final Report
3 The equation used is:
EPF = Effective Protection Factor
P = % of time a respirator is worn
APF = Assigned Protection Factor
Examples for an FFP2 Respirator (APF=10)
If P=100% EPF=10
If P=90% EPF=5.3