What Is Respirator Fit Testing?

200ls half mask respirator

OSHA requirements demand that employers provide full-face or half-face respirators “to protect employees from breathing contaminated and/or oxygen-deficient air when effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted.”

Certain industries may have specific requirements for respirators and other respiratory protection. One thing that’s constant, thought, is the need for “respirator fit testing.”

What Is Respirator Fit Testing?

Respirator fit testing is a process where respirator masks are tested to ensure not only a proper fit over the face of the wearer, but effective protection against contaminants and other respiratory hazards.

In workplace environments where respiratory protection is necessary, OSHA required fit testing to be performed.

There are two kinds of respirator fit tests: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative Fit Tests

Qualitative fit tests are the simpler of the two types. With qualitative fit tests, the wearer is exposes to an irritant or an airborne substance with a unique smell. If the substance can be detected by the wearer despite the mask, then there is a leak and the mask is not properly fitted.

The four methods accepted by OSHA for qualitative respirator fit tests are the following:

  • Irritant smoke—if the smoke causes coughing, the test is a failure
  • Saccharin—this substance leaves a sweet taste in the mouth; if it can be tasted, the test is a failure
  • Bitrex— this substance leaves a bitter taste in the mouth; if it can be tasted, the test is a failure
  • Isoamyl acetate—this substance smells strongly of bananas; if it can be smelled, the test is a failure

Qualitative testing is most often used for half-masks, i.e. masks that only cover the mouth and nose.

Quantitative Fit Testing

Where qualitative tests are subjectively evaluated on a simple pass/fail basis, quantitative fit testing using sophisticated machinery to gauge exactly how much of a given contaminant has leaked into a respirator mask. This makes it a more accurate and precise method.

Quantitative fit testing is performed by testing internal and external aerosol concentrations, or by variously testing air flow and pressure within the seal.

What Industries Need Respirator Fit Testing?

Fit testing is necessary for any industry that requires respiratory protection. Respiratory hazards come in many forms and are present at many worksites. According to OSHA common respiratory hazards include:

  • dusts, such as those found when adding dry ingredients to a mixture;
  • metal fumes from welding, cutting, and smelting of metals;
  • solvent vapors from spray coatings, adhesives, paints, strippers, and cleaning solvents;
  • infectious agents, such as tuberculosis bacteria in healthcare settings;
  • chemical hazards, such as chlorine gas and anhydrous ammonia in chemical processing and use operations;
  • sensitizing vapors or dusts, such as isocyanates, certain epoxies, and beryllium;
  • oxygen deficiency, which might be found in confined spaces; and
  • pharmaceuticals during the production of prescription drugs.

Any worksite at which these or other hazards are present will require engineering, work practice, and administrative controls to mitigate the risk to employees—including properly fitted respirators in many cases.

Respirator Fit Testing in Southern California

Proper respirator fit testing is crucial, so much so that professional services may be advisable in some workplaces.

If your business needs respirator fit testing services in Southern California, call SoCal First Aid® today. Specializing in first aid supplies, first aid kit refills, safety and compliance training, and more, SoCal First Aid® can help with both qualitative and quantitative respirator fit testing in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange and Ventura Counties.

Get in touch to learn more and make an appointment.


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