Respirator Fit Testing

When respiratory protection is required employers must have a respirator protection program as specified in OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134). Before wearing a respirator, workers must first be medically evaluated using the mandatory medical questionnaire or an equivalent method.

There are respirator fit testing requirements for any worker who is required to use a tight-fitting respirator. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration “OSHA” and State OSHA Agencies require employers to fit test workers who must wear respirators on the job.

It is important to remember that using a respirator that fits properly protects the health and safety of associates.

A respirator cannot provide the proper protection if it doesn’t fit properly. Certain respirators, known as tight-fitting respirators, must form a tight seal around the face or neck to work properly. If the respirator doesn’t fit properly, contaminated air can leak into the respirator facepiece, and cause one to breathe in hazardous substances.

In addition, before utilizing a respirator or being fit-tested, employers must ensure that associates are medically able to wear one.  A “fit test” tests the seal between the respirator’s facepiece and the face. It takes fifteen to twenty minutes to complete and is performed at least annually. After passing a fit test with a respirator, it is essential to use the exact same make, model, style, and size respirator on the job.

A fit test should not be confused with a user seal check. A user seal check is a quick check performed by the wearer each time the respirator is put on. It determines if the respirator is properly seated to the face or needs to be readjusted.

There are two types of fit tests: Qualitative and Quantitative.

Qualitative fit testing is a pass/fail test method that uses the sense of taste or smell, or one’s reaction to an irritant in order to detect leakage into the respirator facepiece. Qualitative fit testing does not measure the actual amount of leakage. Whether the respirator passes or fails the test is based simply on detecting leakage of the test substance into the facepiece.

There are four qualitative fit test methods accepted by OSHA:

  • Isoamyl acetate, which smells like bananas
  • Saccharin, which leaves a sweet taste in your mouth
  • Bitrex, which leaves a bitter taste in your mouth
  • Irritant smoke, which can cause coughing.

Qualitative fit testing is normally used for half-mask respirators – those that just cover your mouth and nose. Half-mask respirators can be filtering facepiece respirators – often called “N95s” – as well as elastomeric respirators.

Quantitative fit testing uses a machine to measure the actual amount of leakage into the facepiece and does not rely upon the sense of taste, smell, or irritation in order to detect leakage. The respirators used during this type of fit testing will have a probe attached to the facepiece that will be connected to the machine by a hose.

There are three quantitative fit test methods accepted by OSHA:

  • Generated aerosol
  • Ambient aerosol
  • Controlled Negative Pressure

Quantitative fit testing can be used for any type of tight-fitting respirator.  Many workers need to wear prescription glasses or personal protective equipment, such as safety goggles or earmuffs, while performing a job. If this is the case, then one must wear these items during the fit test to be sure there is no interference with the respirator’s fit.

Also, the fit of one’s respirator must be retested whenever there is a change in one’s physical condition that could affect the fit of you respirator. Such changes could include:

  • Large weight gain or loss
  • Major dental work (such as new dentures)
  • Facial surgery that may have changed the shape of your face
  • Significant scarring in the area of the seal

Any of these changes could affect the ability of your respirator to properly seal to the face which could allow contaminated air to leak into your respirator facepiece.

Facial hair, like a beard or mustache, can affect your respirator’s ability to protect you. Anything that comes between the face and the respirator seal or gets into the respirator valves can allow contaminated air to leak into the respirator facepiece which will not allow for proper protection. For example, if an associate has long hair, it can also get between the respirator seal and the face which can allow contaminated air to leak into the respirator.

For more information about respirator use in the workplace, refer to OSHA and NIOSH websites or call our office