6 Easy Steps to Establishing a Respiratory Program – Step 5

5. The Fit Test

Before anyone can start wearing a respirator, and after they’ve passed the medical evaluation, they need to be fit tested. A respirator that is the wrong size and that isn’t being worn correctly will allow contaminated air to pass through the face seal without going through the filters which means that the user will be inhaling the very stuff that he’s trying to protect himself against.

A fit test must be done by authorized and properly trained fit testers. Your safety supply distributor should be able to assist you in getting your personnel fit tested. The manufacturer of your respirator is also a potential source of help. While they won’t want to come out and fit test one or two workers every time you hire a new person, they should be willing to help you out if the number of workers to fit test is large enough. Additionally, the manufacturer should be able to help, while they are there, with the training which is step 6 and which we will be looking at tomorrow.

The best, and easiest way to get your people fit tested is to have your safety officer trained to do fit testing. Contact your safety supply distributor for help, they should be able and willing to help fit test and/or train your staff to do fit testing.

A fit test is a simple procedure that takes no more than 15 minutes or so (excluding the respirator training) and involves making sure that the user is putting the respirator on correctly, not wearing it too loose or too tight and that, when he moves around in what would be the normal movements of daily work, he or she will maintain the proper seal between the respirator and the skin around the mask.

There are two main types of fit tests:

  1. Quantative – This fit test uses a hood and an instrument to measure how much of the substance is getting into the respirator. While much more accurate, it requires a lot more equipment and because of this extra equipment ends up costing more.
  2. Qualatitve – This fit test uses one of several possible substances to see if the user is getting a proper seal. The substances are saccharin, banana oil, bitrex and irritant smoke. Saccharin, bitrex and banana oil rely exclusively on the honesty of the user in making sure that he lets the fit tester know when he is tasting either the sweet flavor of saccharin, the flavor of bananas or the bitter flavor of bitrex. Irritant smoke, which is by far the most commonly used from of qualitative fit testing involves a smoke that irritates the lungs if inhaled causing immediate coughing. The fit tester uses a little squeeze bulb attached to a tube of this irritant smoke and blows it around the seal of the facepiece while the user goes through a series of exercises and motions to make sure that the seal is tight.

For a sample of the fit test form, including all the movements and actions that the user has to perform while being fit tested download your free copy of my document “The Basics of Respiratory Protection.”

Tomorrow we will conclude this series with step 6, the training.

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