OHS Canada Magazine

Respirator Mask Fit-Testing FAQs


July 20, 2017
By Allan M. Nolan

Over the years, our office staff and trainers at Safety First Training have come across a whole array of questions related to mask fit testing. We have found that when our clients try research this topic, there is not a lot of information available. So we have compiled our most frequently asked questions related to respirator fit testing.

1. Why is mask fit testing required?
Respirator-mask fit testing is required in quite a few different fields of work. The most common field that requires fit testing is the medical sector. The reason is, if there is ever an outbreak of any sort, nurses and doctors should be able to grab a mask and go to work. They are exposed to a wide variety of viruses and sicknesses where masks help to protect them against anything that may be airborne.

In other fields of work, usually something construction-related, mask fit tests are required to protect employees from dirt, dust, sand, toxic chemicals, etc. Employees could experience serious health issues if they are exposed to contamination and do not have a way to properly protect themselves.

2. What is an N95 mask?
An N95 mask is a disposable mask. So any type of mask that can be used for only one time is considered an N95 mask. This type of mask also must be NIOSH-approved and clearly classified by the Food and Drug Administration as a surgical mask.

3. What is the difference between qualitative fit testing and quantitative fit testing?
A qualitative fit test is the most common type of test and covers most of the regularly used workplace masks such as N95, half-face and full-face respirators. The test involves the taste sensitivity of the person being tested and can be applied to any type of mask that does not have its own separate air supply.

The quantitative fit test requires the use of a Portacount machine to measure the safety of the mask via the fixed air supply. It does not rely on the test sensitivity of a subject, but rather, it provides a fit-factor safety measurement.

Both types of tests must be conducted at least every two years and should be done sooner if the wearer has gained weight, lost weight or grown facial hair since their previous test. The tests can only be performed by a qualified instructor.

4. I need a mask fit test. What do I do?
The first step is to find out when your company is having a qualified trainer come to their location to conduct the test.

5. Is there anything I need to do before I have my mask fit test?
Yes! There is no eating, smoking or drinking about 20 minutes before the test. When it is time for your test, you will be required to fill out a short medical form consenting to the fit test, and after that, the trainer will take care of the rest. Unfortunately, if you have any facial hair, you will have to shave. This is because when you have facial hair, the N95 mask cannot properly secure to the skin on your face and you will fail the test.

6. Can I have a fit test if I am pregnant?
Yes, you can. The solution we use is a nontoxic and completely digestible. We currently use Bitrex FT-31 and FT-32.

7. I was fit-tested on one mask, but my company does not have a stock of it. What can I do?
If your company is out of stock of the type of masks you are fit-tested to use, you cannot supplement one type with another. For example, if you are fit-tested to wear a 3M 8210 and there is only the 3M 8110S, you will be unable to wear a mask because that other size might not fit you correctly. If you choose to wear the mask that you are not fit-tested for, this could result in serious consequences.

Allan M. Nolan is the president of Safety First Training Ltd. in Mississauga, Ontario. The company has provided workplace health and safety training since 1989.