An Overdue Update: Respirator Fit-Testing Methods

Barbara Nessinger, Editor-in-Chief

According to OSHA, an employer that performed fit-testing every two years reported 7% of their employees switched to different respirator sizes and/or models each time they were tested. OSHA now requires yearly fit testing. (photo courtesy OHD, LLP)

Respirator fit-testing is a protocol used to evaluate sealing surface leakage of a specific, tight-fitting respirator while it is being worn. Individuals do not have to be issued the same respirator that they are fit-tested with, as long as they are issued a respirator that is the same make, model, style, size and material of respirator with which they are fit-tested. There are two categories of respirator fit-testing, which include qualitative and quantitative fit-testing methods.

The standard was developed by ANSI (which is now known as ASSP), and content was also provided by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). Guideline Z88.10-2010 provides respiratory protection program managers (RPPM) with clear, consistent guidance on respirator fit-testing and the components required of an effective respiratory protection program.

Included in the guide are instructions on how to avoid interference of PPE; it also provides detailed information on face pieces, including their selection, and other considerations for effective fit-testing. Guideline Z88.10 was last updated in 2010.

The standard/guideline provides in-depth requirements for training fit-test operators. It also includes a large section entitled “General Considerations,” which covers, in detail, the important considerations for performing all respirator fit-testing protocols.

According to Dr. Stephanie Lynch, Ph.D., OHD, LLP Product Manager, Z88.10 is “a standard for addressing the proper way to carry out fit testing, [which] was long overdue and has been immensely helpful to the field of respiratory protection.”

In addition, Clause 6 of the General Considerations section includes medical evaluation and pre-fit test training (such as how to don the respirator without assistance).  Z88.10 recommends using a mirror to see how to position and adjust the respirator, for example. Also in this section are guidelines on how to inspect the respirator and how to accomplish user seal checks.

Know & Avoid the Risk Factors

There are numerous factors that could potentially diminish the effectiveness and fit of a respirator. These include:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Dental work or facial surgery
  • Significant scarring in areas where seal meets skin
  • Wearer discomfort
  • Facial hair or certain hair styles
  • Cosmetics or facial jewelry
  • Glasses or protective eyewear
  • Do not perform fit testing if any foreign material, like gels or creams, are present between the sealing surfaces of the face and the respirator
  • PPE must not interfere with respirator sealing surfaces and must be worn during fit testing

There are some other conditions that can adversely affect fit. These include possible facial feature interference, such as hollow temples, exceedingly protruding cheekbones, deep skin creases, absence of teeth or dentures, or facial injury—including mouth or facial swelling.

Moreover, if dentures are worn during respirator use, dentures should be worn during fit testing. If dentures are not worn during respirator use, then dentures should not be worn during fit testing.

Passing the Test

Qualitative fit-testing is a pass/fail test that uses the wearer’s sense of taste or smell, or his/her reaction to an irritant, in order to detect leakage into the respirator facepiece. Whether or not a worker needs a full-face respirator or a half-mask respirator depends on the Assigned Protection Factor (APF). The APF consists of a number that describes the level of protection that a respirator can be expected to provide—if used properly.

Yearly fit-testing is now required. According to OSHA, an employer that performed fit-testing every two years reported 7% of their employees switched to different respirator sizes and/or models each time they were tested. OSHA considered this 7% measurement to be unacceptable and adopted the policy to require both annual fit testing and training. IHW


Copies of the standard can be purchased online, at the ANSI Webstore:

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