Why Fit Matters
Employers can have the best intentions when it comes to protecting their workforce from harmful airborne particles, but unless the supplied equipment works properly then it is a pointless exercise.
Disposable respirators are a proven defence against a range of airborne media. A good disposable respirator can have the best features in its category – good filter efficiency, manufactured with the best materials, low breathing resistance – however, if it doesn’t fit the user’s face properly, then it is not doing the job for which it has been designed
What affects fit
All faces are not created the same, which is why most disposable respirators have some degree of flexibility. However, being able to appear to form to the contours of an individual’s face doesn’t mean the fit is going to be effective. There is a range of reasons why it might not – repeated removal, heavy make-up, wrong size, facial expressions – can all contribute to a degraded fit.
One of the biggest obstacles to a correct fit is facial hair. Disposable respirators will not be able to fit effectively if the user has facial hair that interferes with the seal on the skin. It is imperative that, if such equipment is a necessity during work, then the wearer must either be clean shaven or use a more robust outcome, such as an air-supplied respirator, which is not as cost-effective as a disposable solution.
Why a user check is not enough
A paper co-authored by James Derrick from the Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, found that a user check is not enough to ensure that a respirator is functioning as it should.
“In this program, all staff were tested with [three] types… of mask. The results of the documented user seal check were then compared with the formal fit-test…results…The user seal check wrongly indicated that the mask fitted on 18-31 per cent of occasions, and wrongly indicated that it did not fit on 21-40 per cent of occasions. These data indicate that the user seal check should not be used as a surrogate fit test. Its usefulness as a pre-use test must also be questioned.”
3M has more than 40 years in research and innovation when it comes to respiratory protection. Its Qualitative Fit Test Kits for the disposable and half-face respirators not only offer a solution to proving an effective fit, but meet the criteria of Australian and New Zealand standard 1715:2009. It also meets the fit testing criteria under OSHA Standard for Fit Testing Respirators: 29 CFR 1910.134, Appendix A.
The test kit comes with a hood, collar assembly, fit test and sensitivity solutions (bitter or sweet) and two nebulisers. The advantages of this type of test is that it is inexpensive, Standards compliant and the test operator can be self-taught via instructions.
Not only do the kits offer a comprehensive fit test, but because they are cost-effective it means they are ideal for retesting as necessary. The need for testing arises in a number of situations, such as for a new employee, if the worker loses a lot of weight, or is required to wear a different type of respirator. Fit testing is recommended to be carried out annually to comply with AS/NZS 1715 or as required by company policy.
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