Real-time measurements improve respirator fit testing
10 September 2020
IN THE UK, workers required to wear respiratory protection are also required to pass an annual respirator fit test.
Fit tests verify a worker can properly don a respirator that can provide a standardized level of protection as mandated by HSE INDG 479.
In the past, fit test solutions focused almost exclusively on completing the standardised fit test, as achieving compliance is the goal. Outside of the fit test itself, solutions offered little help with achieving the best possible respirator fit. A new and welcome trend to the world of respirator fit testing is the increasing usage and prominence of real-time measurements. These dynamic measurements improve staff donning training, speed-up mask selection, provide real-time feedback and pre-verify proper respirator fit. Real-time measurements not only promote increased safety for workers but also save companies and test administrators a lot of time and effort.
A little background
Real-time measurements of respirator fit are an output of Condensation Nuclei Counter (CNC)-based quantitative fit test instruments. These instruments evaluate fit by measuring air particles both inside and outside a respirator, and then generate live data.
Until recently, real-time or live data was largely unused by fit test administrators due to the importance placed on the final fit test result. Even fit test instruments viewed real-time data as a side feature, as “passing” or “failing” is what mattered most to users. More recently, instrument providers and programme administrators are realising the benefits of utilizing real-time information during respirator donning and adjustment. These dynamic measurements help to better detail respirator fit and verify protection.
The insights provided by real-time measurements may be most impactful by improving respirator training for workers. Fluctuating real-time measurements can show workers exactly how to best don, adjust and wear respirators for optimal levels of respiratory protection. Live data gives both fit test administrators and workers a better understanding of how respirator fit changes with mask positioning and movement, giving mask wearers the knowledge to achieve and maintain high levels of safety.
In addition to improving safety, better training can also save fit test administrators time. Workers provided with a better understanding of how respirators fit, start fit tests properly trained and prepared to pass. They understand how to don, adjust and wear their mask and avoid many of the pitfalls that lead to failed fit tests.
Speeding up mask selection
Real-time data can also be extremely useful for selecting the right size and type of respirator for workers. Mask selection has previously been an inefficient process, mixing trial-and-error and experience to identify masks that will pass a fit test on a worker. Many long-time mask wearers know what will work for them. However, new employees and those with changing face-shapes due to weight fluctuations and other factors, greatly benefit from a quick real-time measurement.
Real-time data allows fit test administrators to match respirators with workers by quickly rejecting masks that do not to fit, to find those that do.
Some mask types, such as disposable filtering facepieces, are notoriously difficult to fit to certain people. Whether it be the mask, the person’s face shape or just a lack of training, fitting disposables to workers can be a complicated and time-consuming process.
Real-time measurements ease the difficult task of mask selection by providing instant and responsive data detailing respirator fit.
Measuring safety in action
When evaluating respirator fit, it is important to see how a respirator protects at both a single moment and how that protection changes over time. Real-time measurements allow us to examine respirator fit during the real world movements workers make on the job.
A fit test can tell us whether a respirator provides an acceptable amount of protection over the course of a full fit test or a single test step. However, only real-time measurements can show us how respirator fit changes during the course of actions like moving, breathing and talking.
This ability to see exactly how respirators will protect workers on the job, allows fit test administrators to increase not only worker safety but also the confidence workers have in their respiratory protection devices.
Reducing failed fit tests
By using real-time data to improve donning training and mask selection, workers show up for fit tests knowing how to wear masks proven to fit. These workers are much more likely to pass a fit test on the first try than those without similar preparation. Real-time measurements can nearly eliminate the wasted time that stems from failed fit tests.
Additionally, many newer instruments now include real-time data within the fit test itself. This information enables users to abandon fit tests in-progress that are sure to result in a test failure. The fit test administrator can then focus on finding a solution that will more quickly achieve a passing result, saving time.
Looking beyond the fit test
The growing trend in fit testing is to look beyond the test itself to find additional ways to increase safety for respirator wearers and efficiency for respiratory protection programs. As shown above, real-time data allows fit test administrators to achieve safety and efficiency by improving the way workers are prepared for annual fit tests, and by improving the fit test itself.
The fit test is still the “final exam” when it comes to verifying respirator protection but how you get to a passed test is arguably just as important. Understanding how real-time measurements can benefit both administrators and workers is key to the success of modern fit test programmes.