The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported respiratory protection as the third most common violation in their Top 10 most frequently cited standards for the year 2020. This means many businesses that were supposed to be protecting their employees by keeping them safe from harmful toxins and particles failed to do so. If these non-compliant businesses would have used respirator fit testing services it might have saved them a lot of trouble and money. Regularly testing the fit of respirators is an important part of protecting employees and should become a part of your overall Environmental Health & Safety program. Apart from remaining compliant with OSHA, respirator tests can save lives.

Respirator Safety

The reason why OSHA is strict on employee respirator safety is that severe illness, and even death, can result from negligence. Many work environments contain harmful substances that can cause irreparable damage without the worker knowing. As nearly five million Americans go to work in environments with dangerous airborne hazards, the protection of their lungs is of the utmost importance.

Smoke and Asbestos

Smoke and asbestos are common toxins concerning respirator fit testing. Firefighters are exposed to large quantities of smoke during a rescue and they never know what is in the smoke they are breathing. Any number of chemicals and compounds from burned objects produce smoke that can cause lung or brain damage. Firefighters have to depend on their respirators in order to do their jobs. Another fatal carcinogen is asbestos dust.  A worker could breathe in asbestos dust without realizing it and later be diagnosed with lung disease.  Typically, the symptoms won’t show up for years, but by the time they do, it’s too late.   Respirators protect people from hidden, undetected risks.

Secured and Sealed

A tight seal is crucial to protect workers by sealing the mask with the skin on the face.  If there are any gaps in the area where the mask and the skin meet, tiny particles and vapors can slip right in and contaminate the breathing area. Respirator fit tests can be administered to identify a poor fit and see where vulnerabilities lie.  For this reason, most facial hair is prohibited for those who wear respirators.

The Qualitative Respirator Fit Test

With the qualitative respirator fit test, the tester will provide a testing hood that will cover the wearer’s head. The hood will be clear in the front and equipped with a special valve to administer a harmless testing agent. During the test, the worker will be wearing their half-mask respirator that covers the nose and mouth.

Once the hood is in position, the mask is on and the wearer is ready, the tester will spray Bitrex or some Saccharin through the port. If the wearer can taste or smell the testing agent, the mask will fail the test. If the wearer cannot detect the testing agent, then the mask will pass the test.

The Quantitative Respirator Fit Test

With the quantitative respirator test, the wearer will not have to undergo any testing agents or rely on their senses. The respirator will be connected to a special machine that is able to detect whether or not there is any leakage and to what degree. A tube is connected from the machine to the respirator that can gauge how much leakage there is by way of pressure.

Properly Fitting Respirators

In the event that a respirator fails, it will need to be replaced by a proper fitting respirator. Each worker has a unique facial shape that will require the make, model, and size that works best for them. Eligible employees will be issued a card that specifies the exact mask that they are approved to wear. This card will be valid for one year, or until any major facial changes occur such as dental work or accidents. Respirator users must maintain a clean-shaven face at all times to ensure maximal protection.  A properly fitting respirator can be the difference between life and death.

Examinetics is the nation’s leading provider of occupational health solutions. We deliver workplace safety compliance services to more than 3,000 clients in over 15,000 locations annually. Examinetics helps leading companies to achieve compliance, minimize productivity loss, and acquire vital data required for optimal health.