Did you know that over three million workers in the United States are required to wear respiratory protection to perform their job tasks?
What is a respirator fit test?
The goal of a respirator is to protect you from external hazards that could be harmful, even deadly, if breathed in—such as air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, vapors, or pathogens. The goal of fit testing is to ensure any tight-fitting respirator is comfortable and provides a good seal between the respirator and the user. It is important to have a good fit to ensure protection against any hazards you may be exposed to while wearing the respirator.
What can I do to prepare for a fit test?
Fit tests take about 15–20 minutes to complete. You will need to bring the respirator you are required to wear for work as you should be fit tested with the same make, model, style, and size of respirator. If you are required to wear a tight-fitting respirator and have facial hair, you will need to make sure you are clean-shaven along the sealing area of a respirator as the facial hair can affect the seal of the mask on your face. Also, remember to bring anything you may be using that may interfere with the use of a respirator such as glasses, hearing protection, or personal protective equipment (PPE).
What kind of fit tests are there?
There are two kinds of OSHA-approved respirator fit tests: qualitative and quantitative. The type of fit testing you get is determined by the type of respirator you wear.
Qualitative fit testing is a pass/fail test that relies on your senses and ability to detect a testing agent. A testing agent is a substance that you will be able to detect only if your respirator does not have a proper seal. The type of testing agent will be selected based on the respirator used. There are four OSHA-approved agents used in qualitative fit testing; these include:
- Isoamyl acetate, which smells like bananas
- Bitrex, which leaves a bitter taste in your mouth
- Saccharin, which leaves a sweet taste in your mouth
- Irritant smoke, which can cause coughing
During the qualitative fit test, you will be asked to perform a series of test exercises for one minute each including normal breathing, deep breathing, turning your head side to side, moving your head up and down, reading a passage, bending over, and normal breathing. If you do not detect the testing agent during the fit test, that means you have passed the fit test and can safely wear the respirator.
Quantitative fit testing uses a machine to measure any amount of leakage into the respirator. There are a few OSHA-approved quantitative fit testing protocols that use different methods to determine a fit factor. The fit factor is a calculation of leakage into the respirator. The test exercises may be very similar to that of the qualitative fit test but are specific to the type of quantitative fit test used. Acceptable fit factors are determined by OSHA based on the type of respirator being used.
How often do I need to be fit-tested?
You should expect to have a respirator fit test at least every year. You should report any major changes in your physical condition, including dental changes or major dental work, cosmetic surgery which could alter the shape of the face, significant changes in body weight, or facial trauma, to your employer as you may need to be fit tested again.
Centers for Disease Control and Protection, “Filtering out Confusion: Frequently Asked Questions about Respiratory Protection,” 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Protection, “The Need for Fit Testing During Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks,” April 1, 2020.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Assigned Protection Factors for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard,” 2009.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “1910.134 – Respiratory Protection.”
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “1910.134 App A – Fit Testing Procedures (Mandatory).”