The respirator fit test is a critical step in employee safety.

Respirator Fit Test: The First Line of Defense

The Workplace Today Regulation

A respirator fit test is a first line of defense against hazards that cause illness, disease and sometimes death.

A respirator is the human body’s man-made air filter — it’s protection against harmful foreign particles, fumes and vapors that can cause illness, disease and sometimes death. A properly fitting seal with the right respirator is the best protection for your lungs in hazardous environments. To support the health and safety of your employees, you need to know the following OSHA obligations.

Employer Obligations and the Proper Fit Test of a Respirator

OSHA holds employers accountable for conducting respirator fit testing in 29 CFR 1910.134 Appendix A. There’s an extensive list of employer responsibilities, so use this as a starting point:

  • Selecting a sufficient number of respirator models and sizes, allowing employees to choose the one that is the most acceptable and fits them correctly.
  • Showing employees how to put on a respirator, how to locate it on their face, how to adjust the tension and how to achieve acceptable fit before the employees select their respirator of choice.
  • Informing the affected employees that they are being asked to make a respirator selection based on the most acceptable fit.
  • Instructing employees to hold their selected respirators up to their faces and eliminate respirators that don’t offer an acceptable fit.
  • Recording the respirator models and sizes chosen by the employee in case the one chosen is later deemed unacceptable.
  • Determining the employee’s familiarity with the selected respirator. If the employee isn’t familiar with the respirator, the employer must provide the training required.
  • Demonstrating how to properly wear a respirator.
  • Making an assessment of comfort with the employee to include position of the respirator on the nose, room for eye protection, room to talk and position of the mask on cheeks and overall face.
  • Determining proper fit through chin and nose bridge placement, strap tension, respirator length and tendency to slip, followed by an employee self-evaluation using a mirror.
  • Refusing to fit test or use respirators on employees if there is any hair growth or apparel between the employee’s skin and the respirator’s sealing surface and not allowing the employee to perform any tasks that require a respirator.
  • Following the respirator manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Assessing if employees exhibit difficulty in breathing. If so, they must be referred to a physician or other health care professional to determine if they can wear a respirator while performing their work duties.
  • Providing the employee, before initiation of the fit test, a description of their responsibilities during the test procedure.
  • Requiring that the employee wears the respirator for at least five minutes before the start of the fit test.
  • Performing the fit test with the employee wearing any applicable safety equipment that may be required during actual work performance to access potential interference.
  • Performing the test exercises prescribed by OSHA.
  • Conducting fit testing and documentation of the fit testing by OSHA’s conditional and frequency requirements.

Employee Obligations and Rights

OSHA-imposed employee responsibilities and rights include:

  • Following your employer’s safety procedures and training programs.
  • Selecting, sizing and verifying comfort and seal of the respirator.
  • Advising your employer if you find the selected respirator is unacceptable and if you feel your training is inadequate.
  • Advising your employer if you feel additional protection is required.
  • Receiving copies, from your employer, of your work area and medical test results.

Powering Forward on All Cylinders

OSHA offers a respirator fit test video and a transcript for employers to assist with compliance with the regulations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a comprehensive fit test FAQ and answers resource.

A properly fitting and maintained respirator is the best defense against lung damage and disease. Apply the right filter the right way so employees can safely power through their work on all cylinders.

J.A. Rodriguez Jr.
J.A. Rodriguez Jr.

J.A. Rodriguez Jr., CSP, is the CEO of Make My Day Strategies LLC and a global Fortune 100 senior manager. Rodriguez was honored to be selected by EHS Today Magazine as one of "The 50 People Who Most Influenced environmental, health and safety in 2012-2013" and "2014 - 2015."