Respirator Clearance

Fit testing for the use of respirators

Fit testing for the use of respirators

A respirator cannot protect the user from contaminants and hazardous substances if it does not fit his or her face properly. In order for the respirator to work correctly, there must be an adequate match between a respirator wearer’s face and the respirator. Because of that, respirator manufacturers normally offer facepieces in a variety of makes, sizes, styles and models.

As there are several types of respirators an employee might use during his activities, some of those types have to form a tight seal between the face or neck to function adequately. Those are called tight-fitting respirators. In that case, anything that interferes with the seal can cause a leak of contaminants into the breathing zone, thus compromising the worker’s safety and health. Therefore, identifying the make, type, style and size of respirator best suited for a certain employee is crucial before its use. This process is called fit test, and it is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to all industries that use respirators.

According to OSHA, a “fit test” tests the seal between a respirator and a worker’s face. And for this purpose, there are two types of fit tests: qualitative fit testing and quantitative fit testing.

Qualitative fit testing is a method that relies on the sense of smell and taste, or the reaction to an irritant substance to detect a leakage into the breathing area of the respirator. There are four substances that can be used to qualitatively fit test a worker: isoamyl acetate (banana smell), bitrex (bitter taste in mouth), saccharin (sweet taste in mouth), and irritant smoke (causes coughing). Qualitative fit testing is usually performed for respirators that just cover the mouth and nose, also called half-mask respirators. On the other hand, quantitative fit testing measures the actual amount of a leaked substance with the use of a special machine that is connected to the facepiece by a probe and a hose. The accepted methods by OSHA to perform a quantitative fit test are: generated aerosol, ambient aerosol, and controlled negative pressure. In contrast to qualitative fit tests, quantitative fit tests can be used for any type of tight-fitting respirator. Both type of tests’ protocols are described in OSHA’s Appendix A to 1910.134.

Considerations before and after a fit test

Before wearing a respirator or being fit tested, the employer must medically evaluate all workers through a respirator clearance test in order to confirm that the employee has no health impediments for the proper use of a respirator. Prior to the actual fit test, the employee must be shown how to put on the respirator, position it on the face, set strap tension, and determine an acceptable fit. Once there is an acceptable fit, the employee needs to perform a seal check in order to confirm if the respirator is properly seated to the face or needs to be readjusted. In addition, if a worker needs to use prescribed glasses or any other protective equipment, such items must me worn during the fit test to check they do not interfere with the respirator’s fit.

Workers must be retested at least annually in order to be sure the respirator still fits correctly, since some changes in a person’s physical condition like weight change, facial surgeries, significant scarring in the area of the seal, or major dental work, might affect the seal between the user’s face and the respirator.

Last but not least, remember that not everyone can get a good fit with one specific respirator, so in case the respirator fails the test, you have to try other make, style, model or size until it fits you properly.

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Respirator Clearance

How to maintain and take care of respirators?

How to maintain and take care of respirators?

Once respirators have been properly selected for each employer, it is important for the employer to ensure that every respirator is working correctly at all times. Since respirators are expected to be worn very frequently, the conditions of the workplace may compromise their effectiveness, and thus the safety and health of the workers. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the employer to have a maintenance and care program for the use of respirators. Here are the main aspects to be considered for keeping respirators in good conditions.

  1. Requirements: According to OSHA’s standard, employers must provide the workers with respirators that are clean, sanitary, and that work properly. Before using any respirators in the workplace, a maintenance program must be set in place in order to ensure that they deliver effective protection. All programs need to include: cleaning and disinfecting, storage, periodic inspections and methods of repair. In other words, all respirators must always work as if they were new.
  2. Cleaning and disinfecting: Some contaminants such as dusts, mists and fumes, can build-up on the seal or inside the respirator, thus compromising the seal functionality and the respirator materials’ integrity, which can reduce the level of protection it can provide. For full-facepieces respirators, proper cleaning is essential to ensure that the user can see through the respirator. In case a respirator is for the exclusive use of a certain employee, cleaning and disinfection should be performed as often as possible to maintain it in good conditions. But in case a respirator is used by different persons, it must be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Respirators can be cleaned and disinfected following OSHA’s procedures or the ones recommended by the manufacturer as long as they are as effective as the OSHA method.
  3. Storage: Respirators must be stored in a place where they remain protected against contamination, damage, sunlight, excessive moisture, extreme temperatures and other damaging elements. Storage method must prevent deformation and material degradation. Emergency-use respirators must be stored in an accessible space but not in the area where an emergency can occur. In addition, emergency respirators need to be stored in compartments explicitly marked to indicate they contain emergency respirators.
  4. Inspection: Regular inspection is obligatory in order to ensure stable reliability of respirators. Depending on the intended use for each respiratory equipment, the frequency and procedure of inspection can vary. For all respirators, inspection procedures must include a check of function, tightness of connections, and condition of all parts such as filters, tubes, valves, facepieces, etcetera. Non-emergency respirators must be inspected before each use and during cleaning. Emergency respirators must be inspected at least monthly. Escape-only respirators must be inspected before being carried to the workplace.
  5. Repair: Respirators that are found to be defective must be removed from service and discarded. In some cases, defective respirators can be repaired or adjusted. In this case, repairs or adjustments must be performed only by the manufacturer or trained personnel, and using exclusively NIOSH-approved parts designed for the respirator.

Would you like to learn more about the use of respirators in the workplace and how to keep your workers safe against airborne contaminants? Please visit our blog.

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Respirator Clearance

How to protect your workers from respiratory hazards?

How to protect your workers from respiratory hazards?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires companies to protect their employees from hazards in the workplace. One of the most common hazard types are the respiratory contaminants. Such contaminants can be found in the form of dusts, fumes, gases, mists, smokes, vapors or even oxygen-deficient environments, and can be harmful to the workers. Therefore, the presence of such substances, and the exposure to them, has to be reduced in order to ensure the safety and health of all workers.

When respiratory hazards are present in the workplace, the employer must use at least one of the next methods in order to reduce the exposure to them:

  1. Elimination: The process of removing a hazard from the workplace. It is the most preferred to control a risk and must be used whenever possible since it implies that the hazard is no longer present. This method also considers substitution of a hazardous substance for another less harmful. For example, the substitution of organic solvents for water-detergent solutions (if possible).
  2. Engineering control: These methods involve built-in mechanisms that are part of the design of the work facilities, the equipment/machinery or the process used in order to minimize the hazardous substance. Some examples include local exhaust ventilation, enclosure and isolation barriers from the emission source, and process control like using electric motors instead of diesel ones to eliminate harmful emissions.
  3. Work practice control: Modifying the way tasks are performed in order to reduce exposure to respiratory hazards is regarded as work practice control. Examples are: education and training about occupational safety and health, establishing and maintaining housekeeping programs, correctly using, cleaning and storing equipment, training for emergency incidents, etc.
  4. Administrative control: It implies limiting the exposure time of workers to the hazards or reducing the number of workers that can work in the same area simultaneously. Some examples are: restricted access to some work areas, restricted tasks to only qualified personnel, job-rotations, and any other rules that could minimize the exposure. However, these measures are not recommended in isolation, since the hazard itself is not removed from the workplace and are very difficult to implement properly.
  5. Personal protective equipment: When these previously mentioned methods cannot properly protect employers, be implemented, or be afforded, the employer must provide workers with an appropriate respiratory equipment to protect their health. Respirators must be selected considering: nature of the hazard, concentration, permissible exposure limits, time period the respirator is used, work activities, and physical characteristics of the respirator, among other considerations. Employees have to be medically evaluated for the use of respirators through a respirator clearance test that must be examined by a PLHCP.

Remember that employees are the most valuable resource of any company, so their safety and health have to be taken seriously. This is why OSHA requires employers to implement as many safety controls as possible. And whenever respirators must be worn in the workplace, it is the employer’s obligation to provide workers with respirator medical evaluations, fit tests, and adequate education and training for the proper use of respirators.

If you want to learn more about respirator clearance tests and how they help ensure the safety and health of workers please visit our blog.

Cover photo by Anamul Rezwan from Pexels

Respirator Clearance

Respirator hazards and where to find them

Respirator hazards and where to find them

Nowadays, the use of respirators and its regulation is widespread in industry in the USA. Although wearing respirators has been a common practice for several hundreds of years, their performance is still based on two main principles: purifying the air before it reaches the breathing space, or providing clean air from an uncontaminated source.

In general, the purpose of a respirator is to avoid, to the extent possible, the exposure of a person to harmful airborne contaminants or to an atmosphere with a deficiency of oxygen. This is achieved by covering the nose and mouth of the user, or the entire face or head of the person in some cases.

The most common use of respirators in industry, especially in manufacturing, maintenance and construction companies, is to avoid airborne contaminants, also named respiratory hazards. However, it is important to mention that not every respirator is adequate for all types of respiratory hazards, and that each of them has a specific purpose or usage scope. This is why you should be aware of the possible contaminants you will be exposed to before actually working. In fact, all employees have to be medically evaluated through a respirator clearance test.

If you want to learn more about respirator medical evaluations and why they are important for your health and safety, please check out our article on respirator clearance tests.

Now, respiratory hazards may be present in many forms in the workplace. Some of them can make you sick or even kill you if inhaled. However, the time necessary for them to harm you varies across respiratory hazards. Some substances like asbestos can cause lung cancer even several years or decades after you breathe it in. But some like carbon monoxide can make you unconscious or kill you in minutes.

Respiratory Hazards Categories

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), respirator clearance tests have to consider the presence of the next basic categories of respiratory hazards:

a) Dusts, which are particles formed by reducing the size of solid materials through processes like grinding, drilling, crushing, abrading or blasting. Examples are wood particles and dry substances like cement or alimentary powders.

b) Fumes are particles formed when volatilized solids condense in cool air, which process is commonly accompanied by a chemical reaction. Examples are fumes produced while smelting, welding, cutting or burning metals.

c) Gases are fluid substances that can change to liquid or solid state only by combining a decrease in temperature and an increase of pressure. Examples are welding gases such as helium, nitrogen, acetylene, and other gases like carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide.

d) Mists are finely divided liquids suspended in the air. Mists can be generated by condensation of gases to the liquid state or by dispersing a liquid into the air by atomizing, foaming or splashing it. Examples are oil mist produced during cutting and grinding operations, acid mists produced during electroplating, paint mists formed during spraying operations, and the condensation of water vapor.

e) Oxygen deficiency is the lack of oxygen in the environment or its presence in the air in concentrations below 19.5%. Oxygen deficiency might be found in confined spaces that can include storage tanks, bins, tunnels, pits, process vessels and other semi-closed environments.

f) Smokes are carbon or soot particles formed by the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels like wood, coal, oil, fossil-fuels, and natural gas.

g) Vapors are gases, formed by evaporating substances that are normally found in solid or liquid state at room temperature and at atmospheric pressure. Some examples are solvent vapors from spay coatings, adhesives, and cleaning solvents.

Final thought

Remember that selecting a respirator is your employer’s responsibility and it must be selected based on the respiratory hazards you will be exposed to at work. OSHA requires companies to be compliant with a series of regulations and standards, such as the respirator medical clearance, in order to assure employee’s safety and health. Therefore, knowing the types of respirators hazards that might be present in your workplace is vital for you to perform your job correctly.

Respirator Clearance

Types of Respirators

Types of Respirators

If you are required by your employer to use a respirator in the workplace, your employer must previously select which type or types of respirators you will be wearing according to the environment conditions of the workplace. This is stipulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standards, and forms part of the responsibilities your employer has to be compliant with. It is very important to know the type of respirator you will be using since you will be medically evaluated for its use by a respirator clearance test.

Respirators might be classified into different categories depending on the feature to be considered. But in general there are two main types of respirators: air-purifying respirators and atmosphere-supplying respirators. The first remove contaminants from the air using filters, canisters and cartridges, while breathing. The latter type provides clean air from an uncontaminated source.

A second category of respirators considers the way a respirator fits the user’s face. Therefore, there are tight-fitting respirators and loose-fitting respirators. Tight-fitting respirators need a seal between the respirator and the person’s face and/or neck in order to operate correctly. This is why anything that interferes with this seal, like facial hair and facial accessories, can lead to leaks of contaminated air. On the other hand, loose-fitting respirators can provide protection without respirator-to-face seal. Only workers who will be wearing tight-fitting respirators need to be fit tested before use. However, both types require a respirator medical clearance, since they still can represent a health or safety risk for the employee.

Now, a third classification for respirators takes into consideration the parts of the face that are covered by them. Hence, respirator types can be divided into half facepiece respirators and full facepiece respirators. Half facepiece respirators cover only the mouth and the nose, and can be further divided into filtering and elastomeric half facepiece respirators. In the case of filtering half-facepieces (informally called N95s), the whole respirator acts as the filter, they are disposable and do not offer protection against non-particulate contaminants such as gases and vapors. Elastomeric half-facepieces can be cleaned and reused, and can offer protection against particulate hazards, and also non-particulate hazards (gases and vapors) if equipped with proper cartridges. In contrast, a full facepiece respirator provides higher protection to the user since it covers the whole face and eyes. This means that these respirators also protect against liquid splashes and eye-irritating gases.

Considering all these classifications, some respirators are combinations of these types. For example, personal air-purifying respirators, known as PAPR, use filters to clean the air. They can be either half or full facepiece, and can be loose-fitting or tight-fitting. In the case of atmosphere-supplying respirators, they can also be half or full facepiece and loose or tight fitting. If the source of clean air is portable, they are regarded as self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), but if the respirator provides air from a source, connected through a long hose, such as a cylinder or compressor, they are considered as airline respirators.

Last but not least, let’s talk about the classification of filters used in respirators. You may have heard of N95 or P100 respirators. The first part of these names (the letter) makes reference to the respirator’s ability to work when exposed to oils. N means “No resistant to oil”, R means “Resistant to oil”, and P means “strongly resistant to oil, or oil-proof”. The second part (the number), refers to the percentage of protection against the most-penetrating particles. Filters that remove at least 95% of particles are given a rating of 95. Filters that can remove at least 99% of the particles are given a 99 rating. And if they filter at least 99.7% of the particles, they are conferred a 100 rating.

What to consider before your respirator clearance test?

In case you will be exposed to hazardous contaminants at your workplace, it is mandatory for your employer to medically evaluate you for respirator use. This is carried out through a respirator clearance test, which consists of completing a questionnaire about your past and current health and work conditions.

Before answering the questionnaire, your employer must indicate the type of respirator, chemical exposure, work effort, environment conditions, respirator usage, protective equipment and any other description of your job. So knowing the types and the usage of respirators will give you some knowledge to detect whether the respirator you were assigned to is the correct one to protect you properly.

Respirator Clearance

How does an online respirator clearance work?

How does an online respirator clearance work?

The Occupational Safe and Health Administration (OSHA) requires companies to be compliant to its regulations, which enforce procedures and considerations that have to be taken into account before and while working under hazardous conditions.

For companies that employ workers who will be using respirators, the OSHA stipulates that all employees must be medically assessed for respirator use in order to certify that this does not represent a risk or impediment for the worker.

These assessments are called respirator medical evaluations or respirator clearance, and correspond to the OSHA’s standard 29 CFR 1910.134. A Respirator clearance is normally applied in the form of a questionnaire that includes questions regarding to current and past employee’s health and working conditions.

There are four main conditions that must be met in order to apply the OSHA’s Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire correctly. 1) All respirator medical evaluations must be performed by a physician or other licensed health care professional (or PLHCP). 2) The respirator clearance test must include all questions in section 1 and 2 of part A, and might include questions of part B at the discretion of the PLHCP. 3) The employer needs to provide follow-up examinations for any employee who gives a positive response to any question in section 2 of part A. 4) Respirator medical evaluations must be administered confidentially, without cost, and during the working hours (or at convenience of the employee).

Having met these four criteria, the format in which the respirator medical evaluation is delivered to the employees can vary. The most frequent ways of clearing workers for respirator use are in-clinic, phone and online respirator clearance tests. However, the advantages of an online respirator clearance test outnumber the ones of the in-clinic and phone counterparts. That is why we recommend you to learn more about how it works.

In recent years, online respirator medical clearance tests are becoming more and more popular, mostly because they are designed to reduce company costs. In fact, there are various choices in the market that can meet the standards of your company. They all operate however in a very similar fashion, which could be generally described as follows.

The process of Online Respirator Clearance Tests

First of all, since this method might be completely new for many companies, respirator medical evaluations providers normally offer a couple of free tries. This has the objective of employers becoming familiar with the online platform. So before paying for any respirator clearance we strongly recommend that you try it first.

Now, before commencing the certification process, there usually is a pre-step, which implies the registration of the employer onto the platform by the test provider. This may include creating an account for the company and giving him access to a certain number of respirator clearances. Once the company has access to the online platform, the employer can start using the management tools. The whole process can be divided into three major steps:

I. New certification request

  1. The employer creates a certification profile indicating the conditions under which one or more employees will work. These conditions include: respirator type, respirator usage, work effort, environment conditions, chemical exposure, protective equipment, a brief description of the job, and a respirator profile name.
  2. The employer registers the name and contact data of the employees who will take the test. Contact data could be registered as email and/or telephone number. This is necessary since those are the means by which the instructions for completing the test will be sent.
  3. The employer requests a new certification. For doing this, the employer first selects one or more registered employees, then assigns them a respirator profile, selects a language (English or Spanish, etc.) for the test, and finally chooses the contact means for sending the instructions to the employee.

II. Online Test completion

  1. The employee receives the instructions via email or text/SMS by the employer. The instructions usually include a user password.
  2. The employee logs onto the web site using a password included in the instructions. Usually this gives the employee direct access to the test in the language previously selected by the employer. Now he/she is ready to answer the respirator medical questionnaire.
  3. The employee goes through the questionnaire and answers all the questions in order for the system to allow him/her to submit the test. In most cases, test completion can be done in just 15 minutes.

III. Results notification and report

  1. The employee receives immediate notification of his/her respirator user status. All answers are treated with confidentiality and cannot be seen by the employer, in order to protect employees’ health information.
  2. Then the employer is informed about the respirator use status of the employees who took the test, minutes after they complete the test.
  3. Finally, both employer and employees are notified by the system within 1 business day in case they need a follow-up examination.

As you can see, the process for completing a respirator clearance test by an online provider is pretty straightforward. This is why ICS Respirator has developed a certified online version of the OSHA´s Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire. We use digital technologies in order to provide solutions that make work safety easier and more cost-effective for companies.

Our Online Respirator Clearance Tests will reduce your company costs since your workers will be able to take the test and be evaluated without leaving the workplace and in just 15 minutes. Try it for FREE!

If you want to learn more about the advantages of online respirator clearance tests vs in-clinic and phone versions, we invite you to read more in our blog.


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