Respirator Fit Testing—What it is and Why You Need It

Many workers, especially those in auto repair facilities and manufacturing plants, are exposed daily to hazardous fumes, chemicals and dust. By wearing respirators, these workers can be protected from inhaling these dangerous contaminants. To ensure the PPE (personal protective equipment) is worn properly however, workers first need respirator fit testing.

Why Fit is Important

Respirators can only keep out hazards if they are worn and sized correctly, but respirators fit different people in different ways. For instance, the shape of someone’s head influences fit, and facial hair such as a beard can be problematic. A respirator fit test makes sure that each employee’s respirator provides maximum protection.

A respirator fit test is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This requirement is in place for all tight-fitting respirators, including powered air-purifying respirators, disposable half-face respirators and both full and half-face reusable respirators. A respirator fit test typically takes about 15-20 minutes to complete, and should be conducted using the same make, model and size of mask that the worker will use on the job. Once the fit test is completed, the worker should always only use a respirator that has been shown to be the right ‘fit.’

The Main Components of Respirator Fit Testing

When providing a respirator fit test, there are three main elements to consider:

Seal
A good fit means the respirator creates a seal between the air and skin, ensuring no gaps or leakage. Without this seal, chemicals can leak inside, and be inhaled.

In addition to a respirator fit test, employees should perform a manual seal check every time they put on their respirator. In fact, OSHA regulations require that they do so under most situations. While a respirator fit test will make sure a respirator can provide a secure seal, a user seal check ensures that it’s being worn correctly, every time.

OSHA has released a video, How to Perform a User Seal Check with an N95 Respirator, that demonstrates how employees can perform a mask seal check, along with other useful information.

Compatibility
Often, a respirator is worn in addition to other PPE such as a hard hat, hearing protection, safety glasses and face shields. During a respirator fit test, the employee should have on all the PPE they are required to wear. This way, employees make sure their PPE doesn’t interfere with each other, and the respirator will still fit snuggly when used.

Stability
A respirator fit test should ensure the respirator won’t move or slide around while it’s worn. During the respirator fit test, users should undertake a variety of exercises to ensure the seal remains intact the entire time.

OSHA requires a new respirator fit test given any time the wearer has a change in physical condition that might impact the fit. This can include weight gain or loss, major dental work (including dentures), facial surgery that might alter the shape of a face, and significant scarring or injury.

Additional OSHA Requirements

Tester Requirements
OSHA does not require any specific respirator fit test certification, but those performing the tests should be trained on how to properly conduct a test, how to recognize invalid tests, and how to properly clean and maintain the equipment (at GMG EnviroSafe, our in-the-field staff are experts on all these requirements).

Testing Requirements
There are a number of respirator fit testing requirements, including assessing a user’s comfort, ensuring they can breathe and talk normally, and also providing instruction on how to properly wear a mask. Proper fit instruction should include information on the following:

    • Chin placement
    • Adequate strap tension (without over tightening)
    • Proper fit across the nose bridge
    • Sizing (distance from nose to chin)
    • Self-observation in mirror to evaluate fit and respirator position

Job Requirements and Functions
Per OSHA requirements, any worker who wears a mandatory respirator on the job must be tested before they wear a mask for the first time, and then be re-assessed annually. A respirator fit test must be given to any worker who wears a respirator that employee works full or part-time. While there are many job functions that OSHA requires a respirator for, some of the most common are:

    • Spraying solvent-based paint
    • Spraying water-based paint
    • Spraying primer
    • Sanding primer
    • Mixing body filler
    • Sanding body filler
    • Sand blasting
    • Mixing solvent-based paint
    • Mixing water-based paint
    • Mixing primer
    • Sanding OEM paint
    • Applying body filler
    • Buffing
    • Welding

Learn more about OSHA respirator fit test requirements here.

About Qualitative Fit Tests

There are two types of respirator fit tests—Quantitative Testing and Qualitative Testing (at GMG EnviroSafe, we only perform Qualitative Testing). A qualitative test relies on a user’s sense of smell or taste, or their reaction to an irritant, in order to detect leakage. There are four qualitative fit tests accepted by OSHA, each of which use different substances such as isoamyl acetate, which smells like bananas, and irritant smoke, which causes coughing.

Each QLFT method includes seven exercises, and each are performed for one minute. Those seven exercises are as follows:

  1. Normal breathing
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Moving the head side to side
  4. Moving the head up and down
  5. Bending over (or jogging in place if the fit test unit doesn’t permit bending at the waist)
  6. Talking
  7. Normal breathing again

Additional OSHA Respiratory Safeguards

  • A respirator fit test is just one of many OSHA requirements regarding respiratory protection, and each are designed to safeguard workers from health hazards. Among the long list of OSHA requirements, employers must have a written respiratory protection program that includes worksite-specific procedures and elements for respirator use. Among many components, that program should include the following, as applicable:
    • Procedures for selecting the proper respirator, based on the respiratory hazards to which the worker is exposed
    • Medical evaluations
    • Procedures for the proper use of respirators in routine and reasonably foreseeable emergency situations
    • Procedures and schedules for cleaning, disinfecting, storing, inspecting and maintaining respirators
    • Procedures to ensure adequate air quality, quantity, and flow of breathing air for atmosphere-supplying respirators
    • Training of employees on the respiratory hazards to which they may be exposed
    • Training of employees on respirators use and fitting
    • Procedures for regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the program

Employers must also keep a record of all medical evaluations, fit testing, training and the respirator program, must ensure each employee is medically able to use their respirator, and must ensure that the respirator does not present a health hazard.

Respirator Fit Testing from GMG EnviroSafe

At GMG EnviroSafe we work with hundreds of automotive service centers, manufacturing plants and other facilities to ensure they are in compliance with all respiratory guidelines. We provide services ranging from respirator fit testing to laboratory and medical services. Our fit tests are performed in person by trained local compliance coordinators. Our compliance coordinators can also ensure your facility is fully compliant with all OSHA and EPA requirements.

For more information, contact your GMG EnviroSafe compliance coordinator or visit our website.