Keeping workers safe from hazardous gases, airborne contaminants, and disease-causing particles is a must in any workplace environment. But respirators and filters are not foolproof. If the respirator does not seal properly over the person’s face, these hazards can easily slip through the cracks, which can lead to illness or injury.
OSHA requires companies of all sizes to protect their workers from these types of hazards. In addition to providing face masks and respirators to employees, companies should conduct what’s known as respirator fit testing. This ensures that every employee has access to a respirator that properly fits over their face to minimize their chances of exposure on the job.
Every respirator is different. Every person is different. While all manufacturers produce respirators and masks in a variety of sizes, a perfect fit is never a guarantee.
Respirators and masks usually come with face seals that adapt to the person’s face. When worn correctly, seals should be directly placed over the nose and mouth to create a tight seal. Gaps, often occurring, near the bridge of the nose or near the cheeks, do not protect against small particles.
Women tend to have smaller faces than their male counterparts, so it’s important to make sure they have access to smaller respirators or masks that fit their face. Men with facial hair may encounter problems, as well. The hair on their face will lead to gaps, allowing unfiltered airflow which could put them at risk. In that case it’s best to choose a respirator hood or PAPR that fits over their entire head for complete protection.
Once workers have chosen their respirator, fit testing gives them a chance to address these problems before entering the hazardous area. If the mask is not well sealed or doesn’t fit properly over the person’s face, they can either adjust the respirator or choose a different one until the problem is solved. Having multiple brands available (3 is ideal) in a variety of sizes is considered best practice.
Fit testing is the fastest, most reliable way to prevent airborne injuries in the workplace—it only takes around 10 to 15 minutes. It’s best to invest in a respirator fit testing kit because it comes with everything you need to double-check your equipment.
To administer a respirator fit test, the person should put on their respirator or face mask, along with whatever filter or cartridge is appropriate for the testing protocol. They should then put on the hood included in the fit testing kit. This creates a control zone for the testing process.
To test the respirator, a second person should dispense a test solution into the hood to see if the person wearing the equipment can smell or taste the given scent. The test solution will either be sweet or bitter, so the person should be able to recognize the scent right away if there is something wrong with their respirator.
If the person wearing the hood cannot smell or taste the test solution, the respirator is working properly. Should the test fail, the solution may be either adjusting the mask or trying another size/brand until a proper seal can be achieved.
Use this guide to protect your workers in the field. Contact the professionals at PK Safety to find the right respirator fit testing kit and safety equipment for your team.