Respirator fit testing is all about the measures and standards put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) when it comes to testing whether a respirator fits the face of the worker properly to protect them from hazardous odors from the factories in which they work. It also aims to ascertain if the respirator is functioning properly. OSHA’s requirements state when to do the tests, how often to conduct the tests and the specific test controls to be done. Without such tests, workers may be exposed to hazardous gases that could pose serious problems to their health. The standard requirement is that the respirator be tested and ensure that it properly fits the face of the worker.
OSHA’s Respirator Protection Standards
OSHA does not require the person conducting the fit testing to be certified, but the employer is mandated to ensure that the tests are conducted in line with OSHA’s respiratory protection standards. A worker may be allowed to use their own respirators, but the employer cannot require a worker to use their own respirator. If a worker does not have one, it is the obligation of the employer to provide them with one that is fit tested. A worker is allowed to use a respirator that was fit tested previously or one that was tested in a different job. This is usually known as fit portability.
A respirator is required to be tested every 12 months for the same model, size and make. If the respirator fails the test, the employer is obliged to provide you with a variety to choose from, in terms of model, size, shape and make, until you find one that properly fits your face.
If you happen to experience changes in your physical appearance such as increased or decreased weight, overgrown hair and beard, major dental work and facial surgery, you are required to change your respirators because all these can affect how the face piece of the respirator fits on the face.
According to OSHA’s respiratory protection standards, the fit testing procedures are done in two main ways; qualitative fit test and quantitative fit test. These two are different in that quantitative is aimed at measuring the amount of test substances available in the face piece, while the qualitative detects the presence of a test substance in the face piece.
Qualitative Fit Testing
This type of test is used for half mask respirators that cover the nose and mouth only. The test relies on your senses of smell. Whether the respirator fails or passes the test depends on whether the worker detected the presence of the test substances in the face piece. If they smelt or tasted the substances, the respirator fails the test. If the worker does not smell or taste the test substances in the face piece, the respirator is said to have passed the qualitative fit testing. Among the substance used for qualitative testing, include irritant smoke that can cause coughing, saccharin, which is characterized by a sweet taste in the mouth, Bitrex, which tastes bitter, and Isoamyl acetate, which smells like bananas.
Qualitative fit testing uses seven exercises done for one minute each. These exercises are moving the head side to side, moving the head up and down, normal breathing, deep breathing, talking, and jogging.
Quantitative Fit Testing
This test does not rely on the worker’s senses of smell or taste. Instead, it uses a machine that is connected to the respirator’s face piece via a hose. This type of fit testing can be used to test any respirator. The machine produces a reading that is referred to as fit factor, which determines if the respirator passes or fails the test. The same exercises done with qualitative fit test are repeated with the quantitative test fit. A fit factor of at least 500 is required for full piece negative pressure respirator, and at least a 100 for half mask respirators.
Adherence of the standards put in place by OSHA is the responsibility of the worker as well as the employer. A faulty respirator can put you at risk of hazardous chemicals and place your health at stake. In addition, if the employer allows you to use your own respirator, they must ensure that the respirator is appropriate for the hazardous chemicals you work with, ensure it is well maintained, cleaned and stored. In case you do not know how to wear a respirator properly, consult with the supervisor before you enter the hazardous area.