What is the difference between Qualitative and Quantitative Fit Testing?

At Pro Safety and Training we spend countless hours researching current trends and conditions in the Industry and we continue to provide high quality solutions to Australian businesses to help keep their workers safe and reduce their business risk.

We are finding more and more companies are contacting us for RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) facial fit testing. These companies have been instructed by their suppliers or principal contractors to complete facial fit testing. Unfortunately finding information on face fit testing has been difficult in the past, so this news post aims to give you information to make informed decisions on fit testing.

What is the purpose of fit testing?

Fit testing is basically conducted for 2 reasons. These are:

  1. To ensure the wearer of the respirator can actually put on the mask correctly- this is done to ensure that the respirator is being worn correctly (not upside down, as per the manufacturers specifications and user guide)
  2. To ensure the seal on the face is adequate and the respirator suits the user. With certain facial characteristics (beards, acne, stubble, scarring) these factors can affect the seal of the respirator on the users face as seen in the below videos.

This users face seal is inadequate due to facial hair.

Face Fit Testing

So what types of fit testing are there and what is the difference?

There are 2 types of facial fit testing- Quantitative and Qualitative.

Quantitative Fit Testing– This is done using a highly technical piece of equipment- the TSI Portacount (8038 or 8048). The user is connected to the machine wearing a respirator, with a tube connected to the inside of the respirator and a tube outside the respirator, and is asked to do a number of exercises (normal breathing, deep breathing, head from side to side, head up and down, speaking, touching toes, grimace). The tubes suck in air and count the particles in the air- the machine and computer then do a calculation based on the particles inside the respirator vs the particles in the air on the outside the respirator. This calculation is called a fit factor. For users to pass this test they must score a fit factor over 100 for half face masks, and over 1000 for full face masks (when using the OSHA 1910.134 Protocol).

Qualitative Fit Testing– This is completed by placing a hood over the users head while wearing the respirator and spraying a chemical solution (bitrex) into the hood. If the user can taste the chemical solution the seal on the respirator is inadequate. This test is quick and cheap however it is relies on the subjective response of the user of the respirator- which is not always reliable. We advise against qualitative testing as from our experience it is unreliable and providers generally do not administer the test correctly.

Quantitative facial fit testing gives you a numerical score and can not be cheated, whereas qualitative fit testing may be inaccurate as some users being tested may lie about the results or may not be able to physically taste the testing solution.

Is fit testing mandatory for all workers wearing a respirator?

In harmonized states we fall under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011. The Act does not directly call up facial fit testing as a requirement, however the Regulation and guidance material does:

WHS Regulation 2011:

Section 44 (3) (a) (ii) states that PPE provided has to be a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable for the worker who is to use or wear it. One way to ensure that it is a suitable size and fit is to conduct a quantitative face fit test.

Codes of Practice:

In How to Safely Remove Asbestos Code of Practice 2011 recommends that a fit test be conducted. This fit test is to be conducted in accordance with AS/NZS 1715:2009 Selection, Use and Maintenance of Respiratory Protective Devices.

In the Foundry Code of Practice 2004 it states that PPE must be a suitable size and fit for workers who are going to use it.

In Silica – Technical guide to managing exposure in the workplace it states that workers wearing masks must be fit tested.

Australian Standards:

In AS/NZS 1715 it specifies that users of any tight fitting respirators are to be fit tested prior to starting work and then at least annually after this. It states if there is a change in the wearers facial characteristics then a fit test must be conducted again.

Manufacturer Specifications:

Sundström (a maker of high quality respirators) specifies that all RPE must be worn in accordance with a written RPE protection program, built in line with AS/NZS 1715- part of this RPE protection program is fit testing.

Site Procedures

More and more companies are taking up fit testing (especially in asbestos removal, mining, construction and in industries relating to Silica) and they are utilizing employment agencies and workers who have conducted fit testing. This is beginning to set a benchmark for use and wearing of respirators.

Does Pro Safety and Training offer Fit Testing?

Yes we do, we mainly conduct quantitative facial fit testing for our preferred respirator brands- Sundström and 3M, however we can provide  quantitative facial fit testing to suit your companies exact needs for other brands of RPE.

We can conduct competitively priced fit testing on site within Australia or at our office in Wooloongabba, Brisbane.

There are hundreds of variables when it comes to facial fit testing including:

  • What is the respirator to be used for, is it for confined space work against airborne contaminants or will it be used in asbestos removal?
  • Will the assigned protection factor of the respirator suit the task being conducted, and are the correct filters being used?
  • What type of respirator and model are we fit testing? Some cheaper respirators are unable to be fit tested, or will generally fail.
  • Have workers received training in the use of their respirators and are they competent in donning (putting on) the respirator?

For Pro Safety and Training we need to understand your business and your situation so please do not feel daunted if we ask you several questions related to fit testing- this is just so we can provide you with the most effective and efficient solution.

For more information call us on 1300 336 003 or contact us.