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Respirators enable people who work in potentially hazardous environments to breathe comfortably with decreased risk of exposure to harmful dusts, fumes, or gases. Since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, the requirement to wear respirators in the workplace has expanded to include most service workers and public-facing positions, and many office workers as well. In order for PPE to be effective, it must fit well and work properly. MediDent Supplies has assembled this guide to fit tests for respirators to ensure your workplace is well-protected.

For an up-to-date guide to choosing PPE, see Five Factors to Consider When Choosing PPE in 2021.

What is a fit test?

Fit tests for respirators are designed to test the seal between the respirator and the wearer’s face. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), respirators must form a full seal to the face to provide expected protection. Workers with facial hair may not be able to achieve an adequate fit. This standard includes disposable respirators (otherwise known as “filtering facepieces”).

Administrators of fit tests do not need to be registered or certified with OSHA, they just need to know how to conduct a test and to ensure proper maintenance of the PPE. Learn more about OSHA fit test requirements here.

User seal checks

In addition to fit tests, employees should always check the seal on their respirators each time they put it on. Wearers can perform either a positive or negative pressure seal check.

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When are fit tests required?

OSHA requires that workplaces hold fit test assessments after the completion of a Respiratory Protection Program, and then at least once annually after that. Employees must also complete a medical examination questionnaire prior to being fitted for respirators and other PPE. This form must be approved by a healthcare provider.

Each wearer must perform a fit test with any respirator they will wear before initial use, and again upon any significant changes to their appearance such as major changes in weight or facial surgery. Fit tests should also be performed when the style or model of respirator used is changed.

Any other PPE that may interfere with the respirator or could be affected by its usage, such as glasses, face shields, or head coverings, should also be worn during the fit test.

Qualitative vs quantitative

There are two kinds of fit tests for respirators: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative fit tests

Qualitative fit tests can be used for air-purifying respirators that will be used in atmospheres where the hazard is at less than 10 times the permissible exposure limit (PEL). OSHA recommends qualitative tests for healthcare environments. It is a pass/fail test, where the user will be asked if they can smell one of the following odors:

During the test, the test subject is asked to perform seven exercises for one minute each:

  1. Normal breathing
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Moving head from side to side
  4. Moving head up and down
  5. Bending over
  6. Talking
  7. Normal breathing

If there is no odor detected, the fit test has been passed, and the respirator can be worn. Read more about OSHA fit testing protocols here.

Quantitative fit tests

Quantitative fit tests can be used for any tight-fitted respirator. This type of test entails measuring air leakage around the seal using a specialized instrument. This instrument will give a numerical result called the “fit factor.” A fit factor of 100 is required for half-mask respirators and a minimum fit factor of 500 is required for full facepiece respirators.

Quantitative fit tests use the same seven exercises as qualitative fit tests, plus an additional “grimace” test where the wearer frowns for 15 seconds while measurements are taken.

Learn more about quantitative fit tests here.

Choosing personal protective equipment

Masks or respirators are an important part of controlling workplace exposure to hazardous substances. In order to be maximally effective, these protective devices must be carefully chosen, correctly fitted, and well-maintained. It is essential to provide NIOSH-certified respirators if hazardous materials are present in the workplace.

N95 Respirators

N95 Respirators help reduce particles inhaled by the wearer. They can be used for respiratory protection when the wearer might be exposed to particulate hazards.

Shop NIOSH-Approved N95 respirators here.

Surgical N95 Respirators

Surgical N95 Respirators help reduce particles both inhaled and expelled by the wearer (plus fluid resistance). They are intended to be used during surgery and other tasks during which the wearer requires respiratory protection and expelled particulates must be contained or fluid resistance is required.

Browse NIOSH-Approved Surgical N95 Particulate Filtering Respirators.

Workplaces nationwide trust MediDent Supplies for wholesale PPE purchasing. Visit the MediDent Supplies for PPE Shop to keep your workplace safe.