Fit Testing – the basics
Fit Testing is a way of assessing whether or not a particular make and model of tight-fitting respirator mask is suitable for an individual.
If a sufficient seal is maintained throughout the test, the make and model of respirator tested is suitable for the user.
Fit Testing does: check if the mask is suitable for the wearer.
Fit Testing does not: check if the mask is adequate for the hazard.
As part of the Fit Test, the instructor will ask you to perform a series of exercises including talking and bending. This places strains on the seal of the mask in a way that mimics your typical working behaviour.
There are two main ways to undertake a Fit Test, the Qualitative and Quantitative methods.
Tight-fitting RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) works by preventing harmful components in the air from getting into your lungs through special filters. To ensure the harmful air passes through the respirator’s filters, tight-fitting RPE requires a flush seal with the user’s face.
In the healthcare environment harmful components in the air usually come from respiratory viruses. These could come from patients with highly infectious conditions such as multi-drug resistant TB, or from performing AGPs (Aerosol Generating Procedures), encouraging a patient to cough. Respiratory viruses are classified as particulate hazards and can be filtered through a particulate filter such as a single-use filtering facepiece (FFP3).
If an adequate seal is not achieved, your RPE will significantly reduce the level of protection it gives you.
Ineffective RPE can potentially put you in danger of
long-term ill health or even death.
The potential consequences for getting it wrong is why Fit Testing tight-fitting RPE is a legal requirement.
If you or your organisation do not follow the RPE guidelines, you could be liable to a hefty fine or prison sentence.
While a respirator mask might fit one employee perfectly, the same brand and model might not be suitable for another. People come in all shapes and sizes, and our faces are no different.
Therefore, anyone who uses tight-fitting RPE at work should be Fit Tested.
However, Fit Testing isn’t for everyone.
People with facial hair cannot wear tight-fitting respirators or be Fit Tested. Any hair caught in the region of the seal between your RPE and your face could let harmful particles or gasses into your lungs, potentially causing long-term harm or even death.
Beards however, aren’t the only reason for failed Fit Tests.
Some people may have facial features that prevent the use of tight-fitting respirators. Moles, scars and other paraphernalia (such as glasses) can also interfere with the seal, rendering tight-fitting RPE ineffective.
In these situations, other types of RPE may be suitable. Such as a Powered Air Purifying Respirator with a helmet or loose-fitting hood.
Even if a particular respirator does fit your face, it might not be suitable for you to use at work. Often, people will wear RPE in combination with other kinds of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), such as visors. Sometimes the combination of these items can interfere with the effectiveness of your RPE. That is why your Fit Tester will ask you to perform your Fit Test in your work clothing and PPE.
As well as ensuring you are complying with the law, a Fit Test will give you peace of mind that your equipment is protecting you the way it should be.
Your initial Fit Test should be performed before you use a particular make/model of tight-fitting RPE in the workplace.
Over time however – and with age, scars, moles and weight gain/loss – our faces can change shape. With this in mind we recommend regular Fit Testing to make sure your RPE is still providing adequate protection.
With our Train the Tester programme and Fit Test Kits, we can supply you with the skills and the equipment for you to cascade Fit Testing across your organisation.
For more information on Fit Testing and to book a session, click here.