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Have you had a fit-test lately?

Julie Copeland

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According to the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) an estimated 5 million workers are required to use respiratory protection in 1.3 million workplaces throughout the United States. Respirators are intended to protect workers against insufficient oxygen.

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OSHA standards require employers to provide employees with respirators that are “applicable and suitable” for the purpose intended when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of the employee. Since a respirator can't protect if it doesn't fit properly, OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.134(f) requires employers to fit test workers who must wear tight fitting respirators on the job.  Unfortunately, many employers aren’t complying with the standard and Respiratory Protection came 4th in OSHA cited violations in 2012. Exposure to contaminated air without the proper respiratory protection can result in lung diseases, cancer and even death.

So what is a fit-test? A “fit-test” tests the seal between the respirator's facepiece and your face. It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to complete and is performed at least annually. After passing a fit-test with a respirator, the employee must use the exact same make, model, style, and size respirator on the job.

A fit-test should not be confused with a user seal check. A user seal check is a quick check performed by the wearer each time the respirator is put on. It determines if the respirator is properly seated to the face or needs to be readjusted. 

There are 2 approved types of fit-testing

Qualitative fit-testing is a pass/fail test method that uses your sense of taste or smell, or your reaction to an irritant in order to detect leakage into the respirator facepiece. Qualitative fit testing does not measure the actual amount of leakage. Whether the respirator passes or fails the test is based simply on you detecting leakage of the test substance into your facepiece.

Quantitative fit-testing uses a machine to measure the actual amount of leakage into the facepiece and does not rely upon your sense of taste, smell, or irritation in order to detect leakage. The respirators used during this type of fit testing will have a probe attached to the facepiece that will be connected to the machine by a hose.

Not everyone can get a good fit with one specific respirator. If the respirator fails the fit-test, then another make, model, style, or size must be tried until one is found that fits the employee properly. Respirators should never impact an employee’s ability to perform job responsibilities.  This includes communication, movement and sensory response.  The employer needs to provide a reasonable selection of sizes and models to choose from.

Before the employee uses a respirator or is fit-tested, the employer must ensure that he/she is medically able to wear it through a medical evaluation.  The evaluation must be conducted by a physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP) before fit-testing or using the respirator.

As an employer you are also responsible for recording the results of fit-testing and this information must be retained until the next fit test is administered.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has approved a variety of respirators for use in different work environments.  It is important that the respirator you choose for your workers is among those approved.  Arbill carries a large selection of respirators for every work environment.  Contact your Arbill representative for assistance in making the right respirator selection and to book your fit-test today.  Visit arbill.com for more information and subscribe to our safety blog for more great safety tips.

Topics: safety, Arbill, respiratory protection, fit-testing

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