Respiratory masks are used to protect the wearer from harmful substances. Respiratory masks are usually made of a soft or hard material or both. They can be classified by their design and intended use. Respirators may also require user training for correct use and disposable or reusable.
Respiratory masks are used in manufacturing, construction, mining, and healthcare to prevent exposure to airborne hazards such as dust, mists, fumes, and gases. The most common respiratory masks used for fit testing are P100, N95, or half-face masks. These masks are designed to protect the wearer from inhaling hazardous airborne materials.
Fit testing is a way to determine whether an employee is given adequate protection while wearing a respirator. Fit testing ensures that a properly fitting respirator is worn by its user, thereby providing the necessary protection against hazards.
A fit test must be conducted before an employee wears a respirator in the workplace for the first time. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also requires employers to provide annual fit testing for employees who wear tight-fitting respirators in the workplace if other changes could affect their fit.
We have three types of fit tests for respiratory masks:
Photo: Cleanspace Technology
Qualitative fit testing (QNFT)
It uses a positive and negative pressure system to check if the mask seals around your face correctly.
Quantitative fit testing (QNFT)
It uses aerosols or gases to test how well your mask fits.
Full-face piece-type fit testing
This goes one step further by fitting more than just a mask; it fuses several pieces of equipment into one unit to act like one piece while you’re wearing them in real-world situations.
The following guidelines should be followed when conducting fit testing for respiratory masks:
1. Make sure that you have received proper training on conducting fit testing for respirators before you start testing employees.
2. Employers must ensure employees get trained on how to use respirators as part of their job duties or description.
3. Fit testing must be conducted before initial use of the respirator and at least annually for each person who wears a respirator mask to check on necessary changes in physical condition like Leakages, Damage due to routine wear and tear, Moisture build-up inside the facepiece, for regular cleaning and new duties involving the use of respiratory protection equipment.
4. To ensure the mask is a good fit, you should be able to breathe comfortably and speak normally. So you have to make sure it is the right size for the employee’s face by checking that the nose bridge is neither too tight nor too loose on the nose and checking that the mask does not press on any part of the face or jaw. Adjust the straps not to be too tight or too loose around the head if it does.
5. You should ensure there is no gap between the mask and the face when you inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth or nostrils; if there is a gap, make sure it fits appropriately by adjusting the straps until it fits snugly to the face without being uncomfortable.
6. Lastly, the results of each fit test should be recorded on a form provided by the employer that specifies:
- The date of the first fit test
- The names of the employee tested
- The brand name of the respirator mask fitted
- The model numbers allocated by the producer of the respirator
The fit of a respirator is critical to its effectiveness. If the mask does not fit correctly, it may leak, allowing contaminants to enter the breathing zone.