In one of our recent blogs, we explained the different types of respirator fit testing (quantitative and qualitative) and why they’re such a critical element of an effective respiratory protection program. With so many people required to wear respirators as part of their daily work routine, questions about what happens during fit testing are something we run into often. One of the most frequently asked questions seems like a simple one, but includes several different factors when being answered: how do I pass a respiratory fit test?
Your respirator fit test is an opportunity for training on the proper use, care, and maintenance of your respirator. Procedures for proper donning, doffing, and user seal checks, as well as a discussion of hazards in the workplace, should also be reviewed at this time.
An Effective Seal
First things first – respirators are designed to protect you from contaminants in the air. Like we mentioned in our What is Fit Testing? blog, the only way a respirator can protect you from that contaminated air is with an effective seal. If the respirator doesn’t fit your face properly, you run the risk of breathing in hazardous substances.
A quantitative fit test will measure the effectiveness of your respirator’s seal, regardless of the type respirator used. Anything that interferes with the sealing surface can allow contaminants to leak into your facepiece reducing the level of protection. The most common example of this is facial hair, but even long hair that’s caught between your face and the seal can cause a problem. You need to make sure any long hair is tied back and that your face is clean-shaven to provide the most effective seal. Respirator wearers also need to be aware that facial scars as well as facial and dental surgery can impact the size and protection level offered by their respirator. You can read more about beards and fit testing here.
The majority of individuals using respirators during their daily work routine also wear other types of PPE – safety prescription eyewear, goggles, hard hats, earmuffs…the list goes on. If you’re someone who wears this additional PPE, you’ll have to wear your gear during the fit test to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your respirator’s fit.
One Size Does Not Fit All
All respirators aren’t created equal, especially when it comes to fit. People come in all shapes and sizes, so what fits one employee may not fit another. At the time of testing, it is important for users to have a selection of products available. Size and styles will vary by manufacturer so take the time required to choose the respirator that feels right. You haven’t truly passed your fit test until you know which respirator fits you properly and provides the best, most-effective seal for your face.
It is also important to remember that a respirator fit test is brand and model specific, meaning that a passed test on a size large from one manufacturer does not mean that a size large from another manufacture will also fit.
Your respirator requires regular cleaning and maintenance. This maintenance will vary based on the complexity of the respirator used, so understand the purpose of each component and how it contributes to the proper function of your respirator. Common components that need replacement are inhalation and exhalation valves, cartridge gaskets, and head harnesses. Cleaning can come in the form of respirator cleaning wipes, respirator baths with an approved solution, or respirator washing machines.
Regular Testing is Key
You need to be fit tested before you start using a respirator for the first time, and retested at least once every two years thereafter to make sure that the respirator you are using continues to fit. Best practice is to use the actual respirator worn in the workplace for the retest so that instructions on component checks can be reviewed.
You should also be sure to retest the effectiveness of your respirator whenever you have a physical change that could affect the fit of your respirator, including:
- Major weight loss or gain
- Major dental work
- Major facial surgery
- Scarring in the areas of the respirator seal
If you’re not able to pass your fit test with your current respirator in the presence of any of these changes, you’ll have to select a different respirator with equivalent protection factors until you find one that provides you with an adequate seal.
And if you aren’t sure whether or not you should be using a respirator, or which one to use for a specific task, ask your supervisor or manager for guidance. Still have questions about respiratory protection and fit testing? Download our free Essential Respiratory Protection Guide now.