As an employer, it’s your responsibility to fit test respirators on your workers, so everyone has access to reliable safety equipment. According to OSHA safety standard 1910.134, employers are required to teach their employers respiratory safety, including how to put on a respirator, how to position it on the face, and how to determine if the respirator fits properly. If you've never performed a respirator fit test, keep reading to learn more.
What Is a Respirator Fit Test?
The test is designed to make sure each worker has access to a respirator that fits their face properly. There should be a clean seal between the mask and their face, so hazardous chemicals and air pollutants cannot get inside the breathing zone. Some workers may have smaller faces, including female employees, so you’ll need to provide masks with adjustable straps or a variety of different sizes. If the worker has facial hair, they will need a respirator that covers their entire face or a larger face mask.
Administering the Test
To administer a respirator fit test, many employers will use a respirator fit test kit. The person wearing the respirator will then be tested on their ability to detect a harmless solution, either bitter or sweet. If the worker cannot detect the solution, the respirator fits properly. If they can detect the solution, it means the respirator does not fit properly or has a leak. You should perform the test before sending your workers into the field. If you hire new workers or order new respirators, you’ll need to repeat the test.
The test includes two parts: the sensitivity test, and the actual fit test.
To administer the sensitivity test, open your bottle of Bitrex or Saccharin solution and the top of your nebulizer. Add approximately 1 teaspoon of the solution into the reservoir at the top of the bulb. Put the top of the nebulizer back on. Then, while squeezing the bulb several times, look carefully to confirm the device is creating a mist. Next, make sure to ask the test subject if they have had anything to eat or drink except for water and that they have not chewed gum for at least 15 minutes prior to the test. If they have, wait before beginning the test as lingering flavors in the test subject's mouth may affect their ability to recognize the test solution.
Place the hood and collar over the subject's head. For this first test, the subject will not be wearing a respirator. The sensitivity test is to make sure the subject can taste and recognize the nebulized solution. Ask the subject to breathe through their mouth with their tongue slightly out. Have them indicate when they taste the solution by raising their hand.
Place the nebulizer valve through the hole in the front of the hood. Squeeze the bulb on the nebulizer, and let the bulb fully re-inflate before squeezing again. Count and take a note of how many times you squeeze the bulb before the test subject indicated they have recognized the taste inside their hood.
When you administer the fit test with the respirator, use the same number of repetitions or slightly more before deciding whether the seal is sufficient. As a rule, if it takes between 1 and 10 squeezes, 10 squeezes should be used for the next test. If it takes more than 30 squeezes, the alternative (either bitter or sweet) test should be administered to the worker.
To administer the fit test, allow the test subject to put on their respirator plus and glasses or other personal protective equipment that may affect the fit of the mask. Explain the test and tell them you'll be asking them to move their head around, up and down, side to side inside the hood to simulate normal work movement. They will be bending at the waist as well to test the seal of the mask in as wide a range of movements as possible.
Next, use the nebulizer to administer about half of the total number of squeezes this particular subject required to recognize the solution in the sensitivity test. Mark the time on your watch when you start. Administer another half of the repetitions after each 30-second period for the duration of the test. The reason for this is the solution tend to settle out of the hood in that amount of time.
After one minute while continuing to add solution to the hood, ask the subject to begin deep, full breathing. Tell them to be careful not to hyperventilate. After one minute of deep breathing, ask the test subject to start turning their head side to side. Have them pause at the end of each turn for a deep breath. After one minute of this procedure, have them do the same thing, but move their head up and down. Have them inhale each time their head is in the upright position. After one minute of this, have the subject bend at the waist as if they are touching their toes.
Again, top up the concentration and give them the user instructions to read out loud. Have them reread the passage for a full minute. You will likely be able to recite this passage by heart after only a few test subjects. Finally, ask the test subject to carry out one more minute of normal breathing.
Once the worker has completed all of these tasks without tasting the mist, they have passed the test. If at any time the worker does taste the solution, take the hood off the subject, take the respirator off, clear the pallet, re-administer the sensitivity test, then adjust the respirator and re-administer the entire fit test.
Choosing a Respirator Fit Test Kit
It’s important to choose a quality respirator fit test kit from a reliable manufacturer. The Allegro Bitrex Respirator Fit Test Kit 2041 is a popular choice for employers across a range of industries. It comes with a test hood, two nebulizers, one box of sensitivity solution (6 vials, one box of fit test solution (6 vials), complete written instructions in English and Spanish, and a fit test record and MSDS.
The solution comes in disposable glass ampules, making it easier to pour the solution into the nebulizers. This also reduces the chance of contamination. Each glass ampule has enough for approximately 3-5 tests, but you can also order a Allegro Bitrex Fit Test Solution Replacement Pack 2041-12K if you run out of solution. It contains 6 vials (ampules) of Bitrex Fit Test Solution Applicators and each applicator has enough solution for approximately 3 fit tests.
Administering respirator fit tests is an important part of ensuring the health and safety of your workers. Contact the professionals at PK Safety for more information about administering these tests and choosing a respiratory fit test kit.