Respirators are the last line of defense.
This is something we say about all personal protective equipment, respirators included. What we mean is that if the respirator fails, there is no other defense between that chemical or biological hazard and the health of your people.
And you won’t know if your respirators will fail unless you perform proper, thorough fit testing.
Do All 7 or 8 Test Exercises
OSHA and CalOSHA have established the steps to be followed in the fit testing protocol. They list 7 to 8 breathing and motion exercises to be performed during the test, which is how we conduct them.
I am always shocked when I hear, “Wow, this is a really thorough test!” or “We never did all this before” when conducting fit testing. I recently heard these statements more than a dozen times during our fit testing of 115 police officers. Before that, I heard similar statements while fit testing health care professionals working in COVID and Tuberculosis units. This is alarming and frankly tells me a lot about the risk manager or safety officer’s commitment to safety.
Why Are Those Protocols Important
You may think these exercises are a little silly, but they serve a particular purpose. The head, mouth, and body movements performed under these protocols are designed to test the seal of the mask.
The human face comes in all shapes and sizes. Respirators aren’t designed to fit specific facial structures. They must work for all ranges of different individuals. As such, there can be times when the respirator seal will not hold directly to skin contact.
This is especially true under motion. Your workers and officers will likely be wearing these under physical duress due to the nature of their jobs. It’s vital that their respirators remain on and sealed during work activities.
The Human Cost
If your group performs work requiring respirators, you must ensure they don’t fail.
Personal protective equipment protects users from specific hazards; some are worse than others. When a respirator fails in a harmful environment, the consequences are severe. Fumes in a meth lab can poison a police officer. A public works employee can succumb to hydrogen sulfide in a sewer. At a minimum, they will have suffered severe, life-debilitating injuries and could potentially lose their lives.
If a fit test fails to catch a faulty respirator or seal check and that worker is hurt, it’s on your watch, and it’s your responsibility. No one wants that on their conscience. You don’t want to see anyone on your team hurt.
As we have discovered, there are charlatan service providers out there who aren’t following proper procedures. The first step to ensuring that doesn’t happen is to hire proper testers. Then, familiarize yourself with the protocols and be present to see that they are followed.
That is how you keep your people safe.