Protection from the Ebola virus continues to dominate the news. More agencies and individuals are discussing full-face and half-face respirators as solutions for care givers. But without proper fit testing, these masks may not be as effective as a towel held over your nose.
Fit testing for respirators requires some specialized equipment as well as an understanding of how respirators protect the lungs. The equipment consists of a hood that goes over the person wearing the respirator, and a nebulizer that allows the administrator to deliver a mist with a specific smell to the air around the respirator. Stated simply, if the person can smell the mist, the mask does not fit properly.
Fit testing is the only way to really know if a respirator is working properly. But even before testing begins, there are some things to know about creating the proper seal around the nose and mouth. First, if you have a Duck Dynasty beard, standard respirators will not work. Even stubble can get in the way of a proper seal.
Testing respirators for fit and effectiveness requires methodical application. It's not fun. It's time consuming, and you look ridiculous while the test is being administered. Before the Ebola virus came to everyone's attention, fit testing was only regularly administered by the largest companies and hospitals. Now it's becoming increasingly common for small companies and individuals trying to increase their protection against infectious disease to administer these tests.
For a better understanding of how to check your masks, read our earlier post on How to Administer a Respirator Fit Test. Kits like the 3M Fit Test and Training Unit will provide instructions not only about how to administer the test, but how to explain proper respirator use, cleaning, and storage of your respirators to your employees or other members of your team.
Another important item to remember about proper fit with half-face and full-face respirators is that they often come in different sizes. Medium masks typically fit 80% of people, so you should only start testing with a smaller or larger mask if your past experiences with glasses and hats lead you to believe you are in the 10% either much larger or much smaller than average folks. Different manufacturers also fit people differently. If you find 3M masks don't fit well or don't provide optimal comfort, try a Moldex mask or other maker to see if the fit improves.
If you have questions about application or which fit test is best for your company, please don't hesitate to give us a call at 1-800-829-9580.