How a Respirator Medical Evaluation and Fit Testing Improves Workplace Safety

Smoke, chemicals and fumes in the workplace can be dangerous to employees’ respiratory health. Respirators are critical pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) that provide necessary protection against hazardous air contaminants and must be worn correctly and fitted for each team member to ensure adequate safety. A respirator medical evaluation and fit test are both required before wearing a respirator at work. Let’s take a closer look and see how your team, and you, can stay safe in a hazardous atmosphere.

What is a Respirator Medical Evaluation?

Let’s start with the basics—according to OSHA, a respirator medical evaluation is required before team members can be fit tested. The evaluation includes a review of the individual’s medical history, current health status, and potential physical limitations that could affect the use of a respirator. These assessments are performed by licensed healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses or occupational health specialists.

This evaluation is all a part of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134, which requires a medical evaluation to be conducted to before the fit test and workplace respirator use to ensure the respirator does not create a safety hazard for employees. For example, workers with lung conditions, heart problems, or even claustrophobia may not be able to wear one safely.

Jobs where respirators and medical evaluations are necessary include:

  • Spraying and mixing solvent-based paint
  • Spraying and mixing water-based paint
  • Spraying, sanding and/or mixing primer
  • Mixing, sanding and/or applying body filler
  • Sandblasting
  • Sanding OEM paint
  • Buffing
  • Welding
  • Confined-space entry

Requirements of the Medical Evaluation

Every employee required to use a respirator, whether it’s written in the OSHA standard or decided by the employer, must complete a medical evaluation. Even employees who voluntarily wear respirators other than a dust mask must complete medical evaluations. Initial medical evaluations must be completed before employees are fit tested. And, fit testing must be completed before using a respirator at work. These requirements are time-sensitive and in this specific order to ensure your employees are protected at work and to prevent injuries and illnesses among employees for whom respirator use is not safe.

Additional medical evaluations are not required unless the employee develops signs or symptoms related to their ability to use the respirator or has been prescribed annual tests by a licensed healthcare provider. Below are some examples of signs and symptoms suggesting additional medical evaluation may be necessary:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Claustrophobia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness

Respirator Fit Test

Once the medical evaluation is completed, the next step is the fit test. According to the CDC, a fit test is conducted so that the respirator is comfortable for the worker while also verifying that hazardous chemicals are not leaking into the respirator. Respirator fit tests must be done for the same make, model, style, and size of respirator being used. If employees have facial scarring, dental changes, cosmetic surgery, or an obvious change in body weight, OSHA requires additional fit testing to verify the respirator continues to be protective. This is important because these conditions may require that employee to use a different size respirator for proper protection.

The fit test, in combination with the respirator medical evaluation, aims to establish respirator use is safe for employees, and to find the right mask size and shape that is both comfortable and protective. This is a delicate balance, but it’s essential to get it right for every employee. Even for those employees who are at-risk using a negative pressure respirator, it is still possible to stay safe at work with a PAPR if they receive medical clearance.

Medical Evaluations with GMG EnviroSafe

At GMG EnviroSafe, we ensure that the respirator medical evaluation is as streamlined as possible. We offer convenient solutions to complete the medical evaluation process and will provide record-keeping of employee clearance status from board-certified occupational medicine physicians.

With our personalized assessments, your team can rest assured that they’re fully protected—and so can you, knowing your business is fully compliant with OSHA requirements. Contact us today to get more information on how GMG EnviroSafe can help you take the first steps towards a safer workplace.