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Published on June 23, 2020

How Respirator Fit Testing Keeps Your Employees Safe

How Respirator Fit Testing Keeps Your Employees Safe

A wide range of employers use respirators to protect employees from harmful particles in the air — from health care workers who need protection from viruses and bacteria to manufacturers who need to shield employees from chemical processes or the dust of silica, asbestos, and other materials. 

If any of your employees use an N-95 respirator, half-face respirator, or full-face respirator in the course of their work duties, annual respirator fit testing of that equipment is vitally important for each employee and mandated by OSHA respirator guidelines. Here are some important factors to consider in how fit testing can keep all your employees safe.

Why is Yearly Respirator Fit Testing Important?

In some cases, yearly testing of basic equipment like a respirator can seem like an administrative hassle or waste of valuable time. Employees might feel that they don’t need to be retested because they are using the same respirator or model as they were last year — and there was no problem detected at that point.

The truth is that, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as many as 10% of subjects failed a fit test after a one-year interval, in spite of using the exact same make, model, and size respirator. NIOSH also confirms that respirator fit can simply change over time, as well. Since the health risks are so significant, it’s important to take yearly fit testing seriously, in addition to consistent daily seal check testing each time an employee puts on their respirator.

How Does Fit Testing Work?

Many employers utilize qualitative fit testing. This method checks to see if the mask user can smell or taste an irritant because of leakage into the respirator. 

Anything that comes between the user’s face and the respirator’s seal could lead to a bad fit and leakage or exposure which could pose significant health risks to your employees. Additionally, if there are significant changes in a user’s facial structure after they have been properly fitted and tested, they should be retested. These kinds of changes could include:

  • Significant weight gain or weight loss (+/- 20 pounds)
  • Structural dental work, such as getting new dentures
  • Reconstructive facial surgery
  • Scarring in the area the respirator seal makes contact with the user’s face

You can find more detailed information about respirator fit testing with this OSHA resource page, including a link to an informative overview video and more about your responsibilities as an employer regarding fit testing

For more complete OSHA regulations about fit testing, review the mandatory fit testing procedures here

Implementing an Effective, Streamlined Fit Testing System

The good news is that fit testing is a quick, accurate, efficient procedure that should only take 15-20 minutes or less per user to complete. Anyone who has been properly trained may perform fit testing. Fit test administrators must be able to prepare isoamyl acetate, denatonium benzoate, and other solutions used in the qualitative method. 

Most employers elect to use outside qualified specialists to administer annual fit testing for their employees. Cone Health Employee Health & Wellness performs hundreds of fit tests on-site in our area each year.

Our trained clinicians are equipped to accurately and efficiently perform qualitative testing for air-purifying (but not air-supplied) respirators. We want to help you keep your employees safe, and get everyone back to work with as little downtime as possible. Respirator fit testing is just one of the many services we offer Triad companies through our clinics and on-site employee health and wellness initiatives.

To speak with someone at Cone Health Employee Health & Wellness about implementing an annual fit testing program for your employees, contact Jacqueline Heyward at (336) 832-7315 or send her an email today.