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What is a respirator fit test?

A respirator is used to protect an employee from inhaling hazardous airborne contaminants during construction or other relevant work. Examples of airborne contaminants that you or your employee could potentially be exposed to include fumes (welding fumes), infectious substances, asbestos, hazardous chemicals and dusts such as crystalline silica1. Respirators must fit properly to ensure the highest level of protection. Respirators come in different makes and models which means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Respirator fit tests are an effective method of ensuring maximum protection against hazardous contaminants through adjusting an employee’s respirator to an optimal fit.

The most common types of respirators are tight-fitting which means there must be a good seal between the workers face and the respirator. A good seal will prevent airborne contaminants from leaking into the respirator and entering the respiratory system of the worker.


Importance of fit

The fit of a respirator involves three key components:

  1. Seal
  2. Compatibility
  3. Stability


If a respirator is a good fit, it will seal properly to the user’s skin. A respirator works by contaminated air passing through a filter. If the respirator is not sealed correctly, the contaminated air will likely go around rather than through the respirator’s filter.


It is important to analyse whether other personal protective equipment (PPE) will interfere with a respirator. Coveralls, safety glasses, hard hats, hearing protection and face shields are all examples of PPE that may compete for space on a user’s head, face or body. For example, a half face respirator can overlap with safety glasses if not fitted correctly. To combat this problem, any PPE identified as potentially disruptive should be worn during the fit test.


When a respirator fits well, it is more likely to remain stable on the user’s face during movement. Throughout fit testing, users are required to undertake several different exercises to ensure the seal is not broken when they are in motion. Any respirator that shifts during movement may not be able to retain a good seal.


When should I organise a respirator fit test for my employees?

It is important that all employees pass a respirator fit test prior to wearing their tight-fitting respirator for the first time on site. Fit testing is required for all tight-fitting respirators and includes half-face disposable, half and full-face reusable and powered air purifying respirators2.

In addition to first time users, respirator fit testing must be conducted each time a new make or model is issued to a worker or when a worker’s features or facial characteristics dramatically change (e.g. when there has been significant weight gain or loss).

To ensure ongoing protection, fit testing should be repeated annually.


Types of respirator fit testing

There are two types of respirator fit testing, Qualitative and Quantitative.

Qualitative fit testing

Qualitative fit testing is a less commonly used method of evaluating respirator fit. Typically, it is used for workers that would be required to wear either a disposable paper mask or respirators that just cover their nose and mouth, or half-mask respirators.

Qualitative fit testing works by detecting leakage of the respirator using your sense of taste and/or smell. It is a pass or fail method that heavily relies on the subjective reports of the individual and for this reason is not the preferred method. Depending on the workers ability to taste or smell, qualitative fit testing can quite often result in a false pass.

Quantitative fit testing

Quantitative fit testing is used for any full face and/or tight-fitting respirator. It involves an instrument called a portacount, measuring the leakage around the face seal of the respirator and providing a numerical value called a fit factor. This fit factor provides an indication as to whether the chosen respirator provides adequate protection for the individual. Quantitative fit testing is considered the gold standard for workers exposed to hazardous particles in the workplace.


Facial hair and respiratory protection

The proper fit and use of respirators is paramount when considering optimal employee health. Workers must ensure that they are clean-shaven prior to wearing a respirator. Facial hair can interfere with the ability to create an effective face seal, placing unnecessary risk on the worker.

KINNECT will only carry out fit testing on males who are clean-shaven.


Difference between fit testing and fit checking

Fit checking is a quick check to ensure the respirator is properly positioned and a good seal has been created. This should be conducted by the wearer each time a respirator is used. Fit checking does not replace the requirement of a fit test by an accredited practitioner.


How to conduct a fit check

There are two ways a respirator user can perform a fit check3:

  • A positive pressure check involves the user blocking the exhalation valve with their hands and attempting to breathe out. If the respirator fits well, there should be a slight pressure build up indicating that there is no air leakage.
  • A negative pressure check involves the user blocking the intake valves with their hands and attempting to breathe in. If the respirator fits well, no air should be able to enter.


How can KINNECT help?

KINNECT offer a convenient respirator fit testing service that can be conducted in all locations and/or onsite at your workplace. Testing is conducted in accordance to Australian Standards AS/NZ 1715:2009 Selection, Use and Maintenance of Respiratory Protective Equipment (half face, full face and disposable masks) and is suitable for all respirator brands including Sundstrom, Honeywell, 3M and Scott.

Prior to conducting respirator fit testing, KINNECT will require the below information:

  • Make and model/s of the respirators used and to be tested
  • Samples of the respirator/s and filters (1 per individual to be tested)
  • An adaptor allowing the connection of the portacount to the respirator (available from your respirator manufacturer and/or supplier of respirator equipment)




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