Fit Testing & It’s Importance
We’ve been hearing a lot about fit tests with the COVID-19 pandemic but did you know they’ve been around for many years? According to the CDC, over 3 million United States employees, in approximately 1.3 million workplaces, are required to wear respiratory protection. A fit test ensures that you’re wearing a mask that is providing you the expected level of protection by minimizing any contaminant leakage into the facepiece. There are many industries, in which maybe your organization belongs, that should be utilizing this test. Industries such as carpentry & general contracting to doctors and dentist offices. If you’re part of one of these industries make sure you’re getting a fit test done for yourself or if you’re in charge of managing this, do so for your employees to keep them stay safe and healthy.
Job duties that require respiratory masks and need to have annual fit test includes, but is not limited to:
- ventilation system maintenance
- cement work creating dust
- paint sanding &/or scraping
- paint stripping
- wood sanding, cutting & grinding
- healthcare workers (N95 Only)
Employees working in a position regulated by OSHA Respirator Standard CFR 1910.134 must complete a respirator fit test at least once a year. This is to confirm the fit of your respirator and ensuring that it forms a tight seal on your face before it’s used in the workplace. Additionally, achieving an adequate seal to your face is essential. Facial hair, such as beards, will not allow a respirator to seal tightly, as a result rendering the respirator useless. When a mask properly fit you there is minimal leakage around edges of the respirator as you inhale. This means almost all of the air is directed through the filter media.
Employers must provide respirator masks and fit testing to employees whenever the work environment presents any of the following hazards:
- Dust and Fibers: Solid particles formed from the mechanical process. Examples: lead, asbestos.
- Fumes: Solid particles that vaporize and condense in cool air. Examples: welding fumes.
- Mists: Liquid droplets suspended in the air from spraying operations. Examples: paint spray mist.
- Gases: Individual molecules in the air at room temperature. Examples: carbon monoxide.
- Vapors: Gaseous substances, normally liquid or solid at room temperature. Examples: solvents.
- Biological Hazards: Living organisms that can cause infections. Examples: viruses, COVID-19, animal waste.
There are two types of Fit Tests. Quantitative and Qualitative; which one do you need?
A quantitative fit test (QNFT)
This can be used to fit test any tight-fitting respirator. It involves using an instrument to measure leakage around the face seal and produces a numerical result called a “fit factor.”
N95 mask is a tight-fitting disposable mask that are primarily used in a healthcare setting. According to the CDC a N95 mask will filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, including large and small particles. A N95 mask is recommended only for use by healthcare personnel who need protection from both airborne and fluid hazards (e.g., splashes, sprays). A N95 is also referred as a medical respirator.
Half Mask | Half Facepiece Respirator Mask
This style covers your nose and mouth and helps provide protection against particulates as well as a wide variety of gases and vapors. The 3M™ Half Facepiece Respirator Mask helps provide you protection at concentrations up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) when it’s properly fitted and paired it with approved 3M™ cartridges and filters. MC Tool & Safety offers different mask types in our online store, if you don’t see what you need give us a call we can likely get it in for you.
Still have fit test questions?
You may find your answer below in some commonly asked questions:
Q: What is a Respirator Fit Test?
A respirator fit test tests the seal between the respirator’s facepiece and your face to ensure proper protection. The RFT must be performed for anyone with an occupational risk for exposure to workplace pathogens. In short, the RFT confirms the right mask and fit adjustments for an employee exposed to workplace airborne hazards.
Q: Is a Fit Test mandatory?
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) mandates Respirator Fit Testing (RFT) on the federal level and state level for most localities. Employees working in a position regulated by OSHA Respirator Standard CFR 1910.134 must have a respirator fit testing done at least once a year. The test always takes place before working with a new mask or after changes in facial characteristics. Annual or more frequent tests ensures continuous protection against mask wear and tear and facial changes.
Q: How long does the Qualitative test take?
The respiratory fit test takes approximately 15 minutes.
Q: If I wear other PPE with my mask, do I wear that during the fit testing?
Yes, it’s necessary! Respiratory protection is often worn simultaneously with other personal protective equipment (PPE). Safety glasses, hearing protection, face shields, hard hats and coveralls can all compete with a respirator for space on a person’s face, head or body, and could interfere with the respirator’s seal. Fit testing should ensure that equipment is compatible and doesn’t reduce the effectiveness of the respirator due to a compromised face seal.
Q: I’m pregnant. Is it safe for me to do a fit test?
As always, you should consult your physician prior to any type of exam or activity. However, yes! It is safe, the solution we use (Bitrex tm) is nontoxic and fully digestible.
Q: What can I expect during an RFT?
During this test, the tester will ask you to wear the respirator mask along with a hood over your head. The tester then applies a series of test agents and gauges your ability to detect the smells and tastes.
Q: Is it safe to wear the respirator fit test hood given the current healthcare pandemic?
Wearing the fit test hood is 100 percent safe as long as testers follow proper sanitation protocols. Testers should use an EPA-approved solution to sanitize before, during, and after every fit test to kill any bacteria, virus, or other pathogens. And, here at MC Tool & Safety we follow all sanitation guidelines to ensure our customer remain healthy and safe!
These same sanitation protocols apply to nebulizers. Nebulizers produce a mist of solution for tasting by the individual. Due to spacing from the front of the hood to the front of the face, chances are minimal any droplets would contaminate the nebulizers, providing testers sanitize the nebulizers between uses.
Q: Now that I’ve been cleared, can I use any respirator mask thereafter?
No, only the respirator mask you were just tested on was the one that passed inspection. Not all masks are created equal and not all are appropriate for your facial configuration. OSHA requires that you be fit-tested on EVERY model of mask assigned for work.
Q: How long is my mask clearance valid?
Under OSHA regulations, your fit test should be completed annually – sooner if you require a different mask. Furthermore, if you gain/lose 10lbs or more (OSHA), or experience other facial changes (i.e. beard hair), does require refitting sooner as those changes can affect a proper mask fit.
Q: How long does my respirator mask last?
With proper storage and sanitation, your mask will remain usable for up to a week. However, masks are not waterproof and they are made to be disposable. If your mask gets wet, dispose of it. Likewise, if the inside appears have extreme signs of wear, throw it away.
Q: What is the proper way to store my mask?
Ideally, you should cycle among several masks and only handle your mask by their elastic bands only. After removal, the CDC recommends storing each mask in a paper bag labeled with the date and wearer’s name. Why a paper bag? Because viral matter doesn’t survive as long in a paper environment as it does in other environments. So, use the mask for several days, store it in a paper bag, then re-use a previously stored mask.
Q: How should I sanitize my mask?
Do NOT spray any aerosol solution into your mask. While some believe this process kills viral matter, spraying affects the integrity of your mask. Ultimately, spraying breaks down mask quality and makes you more susceptible to contracting or transmitting a virus or inhaling additional aerosol the N95 would have prevented.