RESPIRATOR FIT TESTING: YOUR LUNGS DEPEND ON IT
A respirator fit test is what protects the lungs against hazards that cause illness, disease, quality of life and sometimes death. In itself the test may seem that it has little significance as long as an employee is wearing a respirator but without a good seal verified from a fit test; the employee might as well enter the work area without a mask at all.
A respirators job is to act as our body’s man-made air filter. It offers protection against harmful foreign particles, fumes and vapors that can cause illness, disease, possible death and poor quality of life. A properly fitting seal with the right respirator is the best protection for your lungs in hazardous environments. To know how to protect your employees safety & health, you need to know the following OSHA guidelines.
Employer Obligations and the Proper Fit Test of a Respirator
OSHA holds employers accountable for conducting respirator fit testing in 29 CFR 1910.134 Appendix A. There’s a long list of employer responsibilities, so I have included the following as a start:
- Have a sufficient number of respirator models and sizes, allowing employees to choose the one that is the most acceptable and fits them correctly.
- Showing employees how to put on a respirator, how to locate it on their face, how to adjust the tension and how to achieve acceptable fit. Employee should be allowed to choose respirator that best fits and is acceptable.
- Let the employees that they are being asked to make a respirator selection based on the most acceptable fit.
- Demonstrate to employees how to hold their selected respirators up to their faces and eliminate respirators that don’t offer an acceptable fit.
- Record the respirator sizes and models chosen by the employee in case the one chosen specifically by employee does not conclude with an acceptable fit.
- Determine the employee’s knowledge with the selected respirator. If the employee isn’t familiar with the respirator, the employer must provide the training required.
- Demonstrate to employee how to properly don (put on) the respirator.
- Allow for adjustments of the respirator to comfortably fit the employee and this should include position of the respirator on the nose, room for eye protection, room to talk and position of the mask on cheeks and overall face.
- Determining proper fit through chin and nose bridge placement, strap tension, respirator length and tendency to slip, provide a mirror so employee can self evaluate
- Refuse to fit test or use respirators on employees if there is any hair growth or apparel between the employee’s skin and the respirator’s sealing surface. There must not be a broken seal.
- The employee shall conduct a user seal check, either the negative and positive pressure seal checks.
- Pay close attention to employees breathing during the test, if he or she begins to show difficulty in breathing, stop the test and employee must be referred to a physician or other health care professional to determine if they can wear a respirator while performing their work duties.
- Provide employees a description of the fit test procedure which outlines the test and level of employee involvement.
- The respirator to be tested shall be worn for at least 5 minutes before the start of the fit test.
- Performing the test exercises per OSHA protocol and document fit testing.
Employee Responsibilities and Rights
OSHA-imposed employee responsibilities and rights include the following:
- Follow your employer’s safety procedures and training programs.
- Selecting, sizing and verifying comfort and seal of the respirator.
- Notify your employer if you find the selected respirator is unacceptable and if you feel your training is inadequate.
- Inform your employer if you feel additional protection is required.
- Requesting copies from your employer, of your work area and medical test results.
Know That There are Resources Available
OSHA offers a respirator fit test video and a transcript for employers to educate and train with. You can also find additional information from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) FAQ and answers resource.
A properly fitting and maintained respirator is what our lungs depend on to keep protected. Take it from the experts (Our Pulmonologist & Respiratory Therapist) that this is a simple test yet can make all difference in your employees’ health.