Infographic and article contributed by Ben Gomez
If you work in the nursing, manufacturing, construction or other industries commonly affected by airborne hazards, you’re probably familiar with the respirator fit test.
Simply put, a respirator fit test is a test that will show if a tight-fitting respirator can be worn by a person without having any leaks. The test must be done using the exact same respirator that a worker is expected to wear on the job, and if the worker needs to wear glasses or other protection while wearing the respirator, they must also wear them during the test.
Generally, respirators are either categorized as loose-fitting or tight-fitting. Because tight-fitting respirators can’t protect you unless they fit, they're held to tougher standards. OSHA demands respirator fit testing only on tight-fitting respirators, and those respirators that don’t rely on a tight seal around a person’s face do not require testing.
But just because you know what one is, do you know which one your employees will need?
Qualitative V.S. Quantitative Respirator Fit Test
There are two main types of respirator fit test. Respirator fit tests are either qualitative or quantitative. Here are the differences between the two types of respirator fit test.
- Pass/Fail Test
- Uses sense of taste/smell or reaction to irritant to detect leaks
- Does not measure amount of air leaking into face piece
- Test subject detects leakage of test substance.
- Mostly for half-mask respirators like N95 face masks
- 4 methods accepted by OSHA:
- Isoamyl Acetate- smells like bananas
- Saccharin- tastes sweet
- Bitrex- tastes bitter
- Irritant Smoke- causes coughing
- Uses a machine to measure actual amount of leakage into face piece
- No taste or smell test used to detect leakage.
- Can be used for any tight fitting respirator
- Mostly used for full face respirators
- 3 methods accepted by OSHA
- Generated Aerosol
- Ambient Aerosol
- Controlled Negative Pressure
Final Respirator Fit Thoughts
Respirator fit tests must be taken before a worker wears a mask for the first time. The worker must also take the fit test every year after that. Fit tests must also be taken if there are changes to a person’s face that could change the fit of the respirator. These changes can include things like:
- weight change that changes their face
- dental work
- face surgery
- face scarring
While respirator fit tests may be easy to lose track of, it is an important element in OSHA compliance. Even more than that, the respirator fit test is an important tool in keeping your employees healthy and safe from environmental hazards. Should you like to know more about the specifics of respirator fit testing, the OSHA website is a great resource.