Respiratory Fit Testing
Saturday, August 1st, 2020
If you use respirators while on the job, then you are – well, you SHOULD be – familiar with respiratory fit testing. OSHA mandates employers to conduct respirator fit testing for all employees that are required to used tight-fitting respirators (this includes dust masks) to perform their work. Fit testing must be done prior to initial use of a respirator, whenever a different facepiece is used, and at least annually thereafter. The purpose of fit testing is to ensure that a specific make, model, and size respirator fits the individual's face in such a manner that there is minimal to no leakage.
Prior to fit testing, the employer must ensure employees are medically able to wear a respirator. This is typically done by having an employee complete the questionnaire located in Appendix C of the OSHA respiratory protection standard. Once completed, a physician or licensed health care professional must review the questionnaire to assess whether or not the individual is cleared for respirator use, if there are restrictions, if a follow-up exam is needed, or if the individual is not cleared at all.
Once medical clearance is obtained, employees will be fit tested by one of two methods: qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative fit testing uses the sense of taste, smell, or reaction to an irritant to detect leakage into the respirator facepiece. This method does not measure the actual amount of leakage. Quantitative fit testing uses a machine to measure the actual amount of leakage into the facepiece and does not rely on a sense of taste, smell, or irritant to detect leakage. Both types of fit testing follow OSHA protocols that can be found in Appendix A of 1910.134. It is up to the employer to determine which type of fit test they require, with the exception of a negative pressure respirator when the required protection factor is greater than 10 or the atmosphere is immediately dangerous to life and health – in these cases, quantitative fit testing is required.
The importance of conducting respiratory fit testing cannot be overstated, not only is it a requirement for on-the-job respirator use but a respirator that does not properly fit leaves you vulnerable to contaminated air which can lead to illness and even death.