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The Significance of Fit Testing for Respiratory Protection

By Tim Jones May 16, 2019

Man Using Respirator While Exercising

If you work in an industry where you're regularly faced with potential breathing hazards, you likely already know the importance of wearing a respirator. These helpful devices protect your health by preventing you from breathing in any harmful vapors, particulates, or fibers. However, these masks are only effective if they fit correctly. Regular fit testing is the only way to know if you are properly protected or not. Keep reading to learn about the basics of fit testing and why it's so important.

When Did You Last Get a Proper Fitting?

Using information from reputable sources like NIOSH, OSHA is able to find out the safe levels of particulate that can be inhaled without compromising a person’s safety. It lets them know what mixture of air and dust, fibers, vapors, fumes, and biological or chemical hazards are safe to be inhaled. Fit testing helps you to determine what kind of respirator you need to protect yourself in a particular workspace, as well as the level of protection a specific mask will provide.

The Basics of Fit Testing

When a job is potentially hazardous, an employer is required to offer the right respirator for the work conditions, according to the guidelines created by the APF. At least once every year, employers must hire a company that specializes in respirator fit testing services to perform PPE training and fit testing. This is the only way to protect employees and prevent them from inhaling dangerous substances that would otherwise lead to serious illness or death.

Fit testing needs to be completed annually because there are a few factors that can impact the fit and effectiveness of the respirator. A few reasons include:

  • Facial hair (beards, mustaches, goatees, etc.)
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Glasses or protective eyewear
  • Dental work
  • Facial surgery
  • Significant scarring where the seal meets the skin

It's crucial that respirators are able to seal to the worker’s face in order to provide the necessary protection. The fit (and by extension, fit testing) is so crucial because it tests out three major factors that directly impact the effectiveness of the mask. These issues are the seal, compatibility, and stability. Keep reading to learn more about these factors.

The Respirator’s Seal

When a respirator fits well, it'll seal to the skin. It'll only be able to serve its primary function if air is only able to pass through the filter. Air and the dangerous particulates that may be in it will take the path of least resistance. If the seal isn’t there, the air will simply go around the filter instead of through it, which decreases the protection. 

Compatibility with Other Equipment

Usually, a respirator isn’t the only piece of PPE that workers will need to wear. Safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, and hearing protection can all take up space on a person’s head and interfere with the space needed for the respirator. Other PPE can knock respirators out of place or take up essential space, interfering with the seal of the respirator. During a fit test, the specialist will catch any potential compatibility problems and remedy them.


The fit test will also check to ensure the seal remains strong even while the worker is in motion, as they would be on a job site. The better a respirator fits, the more stable it'll be. If the respirator moves around while a worker is moving around, it won’t be able to hold its seal, rendering it less useful.

Contact us at Professional Fit Testing Services to schedule your next respirator fit test.

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