A damaging mistake that many businesses make, is failing to provide a regular respirator fit test program for their workers. In fact, during the year 2020, the Respiratory Protection Standard was number three on the list of the top ten most cited OSHA standards.
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Who Is Required to Wear a Respirator?
When a worker is in an environment where they can be exposed to contaminated air that contains harmful compounds such as, fumes, dust, fogs, smokes, vapors, etc., they are required to wear protection from inhalation of contaminants. Some jobs will require a full mask respirator, and others only a half mask. Either way, it is important that the equipment used is in good condition and works effectively. It is up to the employer, usually a safety manager, to identify the dangerous contaminants workers may be exposed to and match up the proper equipment to keep them protected.
Dangers of a Poor Fit
A tight seal is vital to respirator protection because they keep contaminants outside of the breathing area. Any gaps in the seals between the mask and the face, or leaks in other vulnerable areas, can cause contaminants to make their way into the lungs and cause severe damage. Health problems such as COPD, silicosis, and even lung cancer, are a potentially fatal risk for people that breathe in harmful particles. In most cases, a person can wear a leaky respirator and not even realize it until the leak causes irreversible damage. A fit test is a required test that verifies a respirator correctly fits the face of the person who wears it.
When Should Respirator Fit Tests Be Done?
Whenever a new employee will be working in an area requiring respirator use, they must be fit tested prior to starting work. The first step is to determine whether or not an employee is healthy enough to wear a respirator while working all day. This will require a medical evaluation and clearance.
The OSHA requirements for respirator fit tests state that employees should be fitted prior to starting work in the area and at least once annually. OSHA also requires that if any major facial changes occur such as dental work, scars, or weight change, the employee has to be re-fitted to accommodate the changes.
How Does a Fit Test Work?
The two types of respirator fit testing techniques are qualitative and quantitative. With a qualitative test, a half-mask is tested by determining if there are any leaks by introducing a strong taste or odor to see if the person being tested detects it while wearing the mask. A quantitative test is administered via a machine that can identify leakage on a particular mask by testing with pressure. In both cases, the person will be alerted if their mask passes or fails to fit properly. Respirators come in many shapes and sizes, so it may take multiple attempts to find the perfect fit.
Respirator Record Keeping
Once a mask is qualified, the details are documented on a fit test record. The employee must continue to use the same make, model and size of the mask that passed for the entire duration of the year. If they wish to change any of these mask features, they must be fitted for the one that they choose to use or they will not be compliant.
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