Why Get Fit Tested?
It’s been busy at the Saskatchewan Safety Council, with the launch of Career Safety Education and the fun bicycle helmet safety videos we have created, but I still managed to participate in a ‘Respirator Fit Testing’ session.
What’s a Respirator Fit Test? I had no idea. But I was going to find out. There were so many questions to be answered. Can a person fail? Is it a fitness test while wearing a respirator? What if I don’t know how to fit properly? What if I fail at respiring? Is it a test to tell how efficient I am at recovering after throwing a fit? Is it an test to see if I can breath while trying to get fit? What does any of this have to do with safety? Have I gone on too long?
Let’s start with why would you even need a respirator. Sometimes there are things in the air that can hurt us and are unsafe to be around. Things like dust and dirt in the air, vapours or fumes from chemicals, or even airborne viruses. You must be thinking, “But Merissa, I have a nose full of hair, shouldn’t that be enough?”
Nope. Our body has nose hairs and mucus to stop some particles from getting in our bodies, but certain materials can damage these natural protectants and affect our health anyway.
In Saskatchewan, the Occupational Health and Safety Act legislates that when an employee is likely to be exposed to dust, fumes, gas, mist, aerosol, or vapour, or any airborne contaminant in harmful amounts, the employer must provide an approved respiratory protective device that is the proper size and has an effective seal to the worker’s face. If a tight fit is essential to ensure the worker is not exposed to one or more airborne contaminants that pose a risk of significant harm to the worker, the worker must be fit-tested by a competent person in an approved manner.
A fit-test is ensuring your mask fits on your face. If you are not wearing a properly fitted respirator, airborne contaminants can be sneaking into your body. You can’t use a friend’s respirator in place of your own, they probably have a very different sized face than you.
How do we fit-test someone? The Saskatchewan Safety Council uses Controlled Negative Pressure testing technology, providing a fit test within 3 minutes. (It’s quick) It’s also quantitative, meaning it provides accuracy in determining the fit of the mask. The scariest part? You must hold your breath while testing. But only for about 8 seconds… like a successful bull ride.
At first, I was fitted with a medium half-face mask which did not at all resemble the half face mask of Erik from Phantom of the Opera (too bad), but it wasn’t a tight fit. I then tried on a small mask and it wasn’t working (nothing to do with the size of my mouth). I had to remove my glasses to make it fit properly. Had I needed this for work, I would have to discuss options with my employer as I do need to wear my glasses to function. I could either use contact lenses or get a mask that is fitted with my prescription.
After being properly fitted, I received a certificate (guess I passed) that indicates the size and model that fits me perfectly. I can go buy the proper mask to be protected with an air-purifying respirator.
Sometimes at home, we don’t think about what we do that requires a respirator. Renovations, painting, autobody work, yard work, or anything that kicks up dust or involves fumes or vapours, should all be done while wearing a dust mask or respirator. If you are unsure of the respirator you require, do your research.
Contact us with any questions as we are the singular source of all things safety in Saskatchewan!
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