Top five things overlooked during respirator fit testing

Everyone loves a good top five list right? It’s the entire basis of the movie High Fidelity. (If you haven’t seen High Fidelity, stop what you’re doing immediately, go home, rent and/or stream it, and watch it. You can print out this blog post as a permission slip. Which should work… I think.)fittesting

Anyway, we’ve been doing some fit testing seminars the past few weeks, and a number of items keep coming up as a surprise to many in attendance. We deal with a number of people across a number of industries including many first responders and healthcare providers. While we tend to focus more of our training on quantitative fit testing, these areas seem to be overlooked in qualitative fit testing as well.

All of these come from OSHA 1910.134 Appendix A, so to quote Dave Berry, “I am not making this up.”

1. You need to be standing while performing your fit test

You’d be amazed how many people perform fit testing while seated. Fit testing is designed to simulate certain activities and movements and needs to be done so while standing.

2. You should be wearing any applicable safety equipment that may be worn during actual respirator use

Items such a helmets, eyewear, and hearing protection can all affect how a respirator fits and should be worn during a fit test.

3. The respirator to be tested needs to be worn for at least five minutes before the start of the fit test

Test administrators performing fit testing are usually under a lot of pressure to get people in and out quickly. But this little-known part of the OSHA requirement makes a lot of sense. Usually, a mask goes on, and testing starts. However, the five-minute time allows the oils and moisture in the skin to help form a better seal around the respirator, as it would under normal working conditions.

4. Each test exercise should be performed for one minute except for the grimace exercise which takes 15 seconds

This isn’t as much of a surprise to most, but it’s one area where qualitative testing (Bitrex, saccharine) can come up short. I’d say more times than not, those using qualitative methods are testing several people at the same time, which makes it difficult to accurately time the length of each exercise.

5. The test subject should be allowed to pick the most acceptable respirator from a sufficient number of respirator models and sizes so that the respirator is acceptable to, and correctly fits, the user

This is an area that is debatable, often in hospitals. Is offering one model of N-95 mask with two sizes with a PAPR for those that can’t wear a disposable offering a  “sufficient number of respirator models and sizes”?

Maybe. Others would argue that it would be effective (and less costly) to offer multiple N-95 models AND sizes.

I bring these items up because if you are being fit tested, you want to make sure you are getting the proper protection. If you’re overseeing fit testing for your organization, you may want to review your fit testing processes – regardless of whether you are performing quantitative or qualitative testing.

I meet with a lot of employee and occupational health professionals, and they are under pressure to get a large number of people tested (and quickly), on top of the seemingly thousands of other items assigned to them. It’s not fun and requires a lot of time and patience.

Learn more about respirator fit testing

RAECO-LIC LLC is the authorized TSI representative  in the Midwest United States. If you’re looking to improve your fit testing, we may be able to help.

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  1. #1 by RaecoRents on October 2, 2014 - 9:02 am

    Reblogged this on RAECO Rents and commented:
    Great tips to consider during fit testing! Thanks to Tom at RAECO for summarizing these five overlooked requirements and recommendations.

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