3M Center for Respiratory Protection
Tight-fitting respirators must seal to the wearer’s face in order to provide expected protection. This includes disposable respirators (also called “filtering facepieces”). Therefore, fit testing is required in the US by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) before a user wears a mandatory respirator on the job, and must be assessed at least annually. In addition, fit tests should be performed:
OSHA doesn’t require fit test administrators to be certified, just to know how to conduct a test, recognize invalid tests, and properly clean and maintain equipment. Read more about OSHA fit testing protocols.
There are two kinds of tests: qualitative and quantitative.
A qualitative fit test (QLFT) may only be used to fit-test:
QLFT is pass/fail and relies on the user’s senses using one of four OSHA-accepted test agents:
Each QLFT method uses seven exercises performed for 1 minute each:
A quantitative fit test (QNFT) can be used to fit-test any tight-fitting respirator. It involves using an instrument to measure leakage around the face seal and produces a numerical result called a “fit factor.” There are three OSHA-accepted QNFT test protocols:
QNFTs use the same seven exercises as QLFTs, plus an additional “grimace” test where the subject smiles or frowns for 15 seconds.
A fit factor of at least 100 is required for half-mask respirators and a minimum fit factor of 500 for a full facepiece negative-pressure respirator.
Respirator fit is important because it involves several major issues:
A good fit means the respirator will seal to your skin. A respirator can only work when air passes through the filter. Air will take the path of least resistance, so if the seal isn’t there, the air will go around rather than through the respirator – and therefore lessen the protection.
Employees wearing tight-fitting respiratory protection should perform a seal check each time they put on their respirator, and are required to do so by OSHA regulations unless the use is voluntary. A fit test ensures that the respirator is able to fit and provide a secure seal, but a user seal check ensures that it’s being worn right each time.
Users can either perform a positive-pressure or negative-pressure seal check:
See the product User Instructions for more details.
Safety glasses, hearing protection, face shields, hard hats and coveralls can all vie with a respirator for real estate on a person’s face, head or body. For instance, if a half face respirator doesn’t fit well (especially if it’s too large), it can overlap with glasses. The more that happens, the more fogging can potentially occur on glasses, and the more likely it is that they’ll interfere with the respirator’s seal.
To catch these problems before they happen on the job, OSHA requires any PPE that could interfere with the respirator’s seal to be worn during the fit test.
The better a respirator fits, the more stable it’s likely to be on the wearer’s face. Fit testing determines the respirator’s ability to retain its seal when the worker is in motion. That’s why test subjects are told to go through several exercises as part of testing. A respirator that shifts during movement may not be able to retain its seal.
Fit testing is not only required by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); it’s vital to respiratory safety. This list provides some of the whys and hows of fit testing.
As pioneers in the field of respiratory protection, we not only invented the first NIOSH approved filtering facepiece disposable respirator, we helped develop qualitative fit testing protocol used today. We have a deep bench of experienced and passionate experts eager to spread knowledge about and increase understanding of this crucial part of respiratory protection.
The Fit Testing Record is the employer documentation that fit testing has been completed and passed for employees. This record must be kept with the respiratory protection program documentation until the next required fit testing.
A Fit Testing Wallet Card is documentation designed to be used by the employee to keep record of their fit test. Fit test results are not tied to the employer, so employees can transfer their valid fit test to another job as long as the same make and model respirator are available.
See the next step in your journey to optimizing your respiratory protection program.