If you work in any field that requires Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE), you will need your equipment to undergo fit testing. This is especially important in industries such as construction, mining or agriculture, as they can have a high exposure to airborne contaminants, potentially leading to lung disease.
What is Fit Testing?
A “fit test” tests the seal between the respirator's facepiece and your face. It takes about fifteen to thirty minutes to complete and is performed at least annually. After passing a fit test with a respirator, you must use the exact same make, model, style, and size respirator on the job. It is critical to ensure a tight seal is made around the face and the respirator is able to prevent exposure to contaminants.
Fit testing is required by Australian New Zealand Standard AS/NZS1715 before a user wears a respirator on the job, and should be assessed at least annually. In addition, fit tests should be performed:
AS/NZS1715 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.
Types of Fit Testing:
There are two types of fit tests:
When negative pressure fit testing disposable RPE, the Standard states the wearer should completely cover the filter with both hands or a non-permeable substance before inhaling sharply.
An adequate seal is indicated by the facepiece sinking onto the face while a poor seal is indicated by the feel of an airstream channelling through the leak.Negative pressure fit testing reusable RPE requires the user to close off air supply and inhale gently. If the facepiece collapses slightly and remains that way, the RPE is probably well fitted, according to the Standard.
Positive pressure fit testing of disposable RPE without exhalation valves requires the wearer to completely cover the filter with both hands or a non-permeable substance before exhaling sharply.
A poor seal is indicated by the feel of an airstream channelling through the leak – readjust the respirator mask.
When testing reusable RPE for positive fit, the wearer should close of the exhalation valve and exhale gently. If slight positive pressure can be built up inside the facepiece without any evidence of outward leakage, the seal is probably satisfactory.
The Standard recommends the wearer does not remove the exhalation valve cover when performing this test.
A common issue raised with fit-testing and respirators is the impact of facial hair on your safety. Facial hair has the potential to compromise the integrity of the seal, allowing hazardous particulates to infiltrate into your body.
2015 UK research has shown that even 24 hours of stubble growth can begin to impact the quality of the seal and reduce protection. 14 other studies over 20 years showed that the presence of facial hair under the mask seal can cause 20 to 1000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven workers. While we appreciate the manly appearance of your beard, it is more important you survive to grow another beard than to wear it on the field. For a simple guide as to what types of facial hair are acceptable, you can check the ProChoice Safety visual guide. However, you will never go wrong if you're clean-shaven, and as such it is recommended.
Can't I just tighten the respirator?
The Australian Standard emphasises the importance of comfort, stating that a good respirator should “provide a tight seal without being uncomfortable and cautions against overtightening the respirator to achieve a tight seal,” because “the wearer may be unable to tolerate using the RPE for any length of time”. As such, ensuring your respirator is properly fit is paramount.
How often should I be fit-tested?
The minimum requirement for fit-testing is annually - once per year. However, it should also be performed "whenever there is a change in the wearer’s facial characteristics or other features which may affect the facial seal of the respirator”, such as weight changes, loss of teeth, or if biological tests indicate exposure to a contaminant. If you're concerned something may have impacted the fit of your respirator, contact somebody about your concerns, err on the side of caution, and get re-tested if you think it necessary.
Where can I get fit-tested?
Here at Taylor Safety Equipment, we have a small, but capable team on staff able and willing to ensure your safety while using your respiratory equipment. If you want us to perform a test for you, you can contact us and we will be happy to schedule you in when possible. We can also organise a quantitative fit test at your location, if required.