Respirator fit tests are required by OSHA. But the employer must also do a medical evaluation of an employee before they wear a respirator on the job.
A worker does not need to see a doctor, but he or she must answer an extensive list of questions which is then reviewed by a medical professional. A link to the OSHA-required questionnaire is in the transcript, below.
Also in this podcast, Dan Clark details the two types of fit testing, quantitative and qualitative.
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Dan Clark: Here’s something you may not know: Every person required to wear a respirator in the workplace must be (1.) medically evaluated to see if respirator use is safe for them and (2.) fit tested to make sure the respirator doesn’t leak. Employers are responsible for making sure these tests happen.
I hope these facts aren’t a surprise to anyone. Details in a moment.
Hi, I’m Dan Clark with The Safety Brief. We take on health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites, a service of Creative Safety Supply.
Why a medical evaluation before respirator use? High blood pressure, asthma and emphysema can interfere with the safe use of respirators. So can bronchitis, epilepsy, even claustrophobia, anxiety and previous heart attack or stroke.
Medical evaluations must be provided by employers, but it doesn’t mean that employees have to go trot off to see the doctor. Bosses can have workers fill out the questionnaire from OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard, appendix C. The link for this is in the transcript of this podcast. A medical pro then reviews the answers for approval or not.
Medical evaluations video from OSHA:
Next, an employee must undergo a fit test with the make, model and size of respirator that he or she will wear on the job. Note: Only tight-fitting respirators need to be fit tested.
Two options: qualitative and quantitative.
First, qualitative. This checks for air leaks while the person is wearing a respirator. A hood is placed over their head.
A sweet, bitter or banana smelling gas is introduced into the hood. If the person can smell or taste the gas, there is a leak. Irritant smoke can also be used which causes coughing, though it is not performed with the hood.
Quantitative. A machine is attached to the mask by a hose. It can measure if there’s a leak and how large the leak is.
Respirator fit testing video from OSHA:
Other considerations for fit tests:
— They must be performed at least once every 12 months.
— The seal can be impacted by facial hair, facial scars, major dental work, facial surgery and even significant weight loss or gain.
— The other gear a person will wear on the job can mess up a good fit too. Glasses or goggles are examples.
— If a respirator doesn’t fit an employee well, the employer must provide alternative respirators.
— Fit tests can be performed by the employer or by an outside party such as a union or testing company.
— Finally, the user is the last line of defense. Once cleared to use a respirator at work, an employee should perform a seal check before use daily. Look to the respirators manufacturer for procedures. There are two methods: negative pressure check and positive pressure check. These involve covering certain parts of the respirator and inhaling or exhaling.
That’s all for this episode, Respirator Fit Tests And Medical Evaluations. Join me again for more ways to stay safety compliant in today’s always-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, a service of Creative Safety Supply. Save 10 percent off your entire order at creativesafetysupply.com with coupon code BIG10.
OSHA offers this Respiratory Protection eTool.
image of man with grey respirator by NIOSH / CDC; image of man with pink respirator 2011 by U.S. Navy / Daniel Meshel