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How to do Respirator Fit Tests: A Step-by-Step Guide

Posted by Xamax on 24/05/17 09:10

Similar to regular PPE, Respiratory Protective Equipment (or RPE for short) is any facial protective equipment that is specifically designed to protect an individual’s airways from harmful airborne contaminants. However, in order to rightfully delegate your employees this PPE, you must ensure it’s fit for workplace use via a fit test.


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What is a Fit Test?

A Fit Test is a certified practice and precaution by HSE (Health and Safety Executive) to ensure that Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is able to provide, at the very least, adequate protection for every employee that requires it.

Fit Tests must be carried out before the respirator or face mask is worn in a contaminated environment with the findings documented.

Who can carry out a Fit Test?

A Fit Test, under UK Legislation, has to be conducted by a competent person. A competent person is defined as someone is appropriately trained, qualified and experience in doing so. This qualification can be achieved and recognised by accreditation from the Fit2Fit scheme, which was introduced by The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) with support from the HSE.

When should I do a Fit Test?

A Fit Test should be carried out in the very initial stages of the buying process to ensure that the item of workwear is fit for purpose and in accordance with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

Employers, like yourself, need to ensure all workwear is in agreement with these regulations by documenting and measuring appropriate risk assessment, control of exposure, health surveillance and incident planning. In other words, a respirator fit test.

It’s important to note, that any breathing apparatus selected, must be identical to that carried out within the respirator fit test. This concerns the make, model, type, and size, which is specific to each employee.

How do I do a Respirator Fit Test?

Once you’ve selected the protective face mask or respirator you wish to order and have a competent individual to carry out the test, it’s time to know how to do one. The Fit Test itself is something that has to be well documented with the necessary details which are retained for inspection.


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A Fit Test can be split into two types: a Qualitative Fit Test (QLFT), and a Quantitative Fit Test (QNFT).

Qualitative Fit Test (QLFT)

A qualitative fit test may only be used to fit test:

  • Air Purifying Respirators that are used in negative pressure. This fit test is on the basis that they’ll be used in atmospheres where the potential hazard is 10 times the permissible exposure limit (PEL).
  • Tight fit face protection with powered and atmosphere-supplying respirators.

The QLFT is split into either Pass or Fail depending on the subject’s senses/reactions to the following test agents:

  • Isoamyl acetate (simulates a banana smell); only for testing respirators that utilise organic vapor cartridges.
  • Saccharin (simulates a sweet taste); can test respirators with a particulate filter of any class.
  • Bitrex (simulates a bitter taste); can test respirators with particulate filters of any class.
  • Irritant Smoke (prompts a cough reflex); only for testing respirators with level 100 particulate filters.

If any of the above test agents are detected by the subject, then the respirator will not comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

In order to fairly test the above agents, the following 7 exercises must be conducted for 1 minute each. The exercises are as follows:

  • Normal Breathing (1 minute)
  • Deep Breathing (1 minute)
  • Moving head side to side (1 minute)
  • Moving head up and down (1 minute)
  • Bending over, or jogging on the spot - if the apparatus does not allow bending at the waist (1 minute)
  • Talking (1 minute)
  • Normal Breathing Again (1 minute)

Quantitative Fit Test (QNFT)

The more common of the two is the Quantitative Fit Test (QNFT) which is used to fit-test any tight-fitting respirator. It mainly involves using equipment to measure the leakage around the face seal of the breathing apparatus. This test will produce a numerical result defined as a “fit factor” which can be produced from any of the following 3 test protocols:

  • Generated Aerosol: uses a non-hazardous aerosol which is generated within the test chamber (i.e. corn oil).
  • Condensation nuclei counter (CNC): uses an ambient aerosol and doesn’t require a test chamber to be used.
  • Controlled negative pressure (CNP): uses a test that creates a vacuum by temporarily cutting off air/oxygen.

The Quantitative Fit Test uses the same 7 exercises that the Qualitative Fit Test uses with the addition of a ‘grimace’ test which involves the subject smiling or frowning for 15 seconds to test the integrity of the facial seal.

Whilst the Qualitative Fit Test is Pass or Fail, the Quantitative Fit Test is graded on achieving a minimum threshold. The threshold for half-mask respirators is a minimum fit factor of 100, whereas for full-mask respirators it is 500.

How do I document a Fit Test?

It’s important to record any Fit Tests you do so that you can prove your PPE is in compliance with UK legislation, should it ever come into question.


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The test must be recorded by accredited personnel and concerns the following measures taking place:

  1. Ensure all employees that are required to wear a respiratory face mask are fit to do so in regards to personal health by completing a medical evaluation.
  2. Document the following:
    1. Name of the person fit tested
    2. Make, model and size of the facepiece
    3. Whether the wearer’s own mask, company pool mask or a fit test service’s mask was used
    4. The test exercises performed during the test
    5. Fit test method used so either
      1. Qualitative for filtering facepieces (FFPs, disposable masks) and half masks
      2. Quantitative for FFPs (disposable masks), half and full face masks
    6. Measured fit factor values for each test
    7. Pass Level used
    8. Date of the test
    9. Details of the person carrying out the fit test
  3. Retain recordings per inspection.


See if you're PPE Compliant by downloading our checklist: 

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So that’s everything?

By carrying out the respirator fit test you are ensuring that the face protection you are ordering for each employee is fit for purpose and in accordance with UK legislation.

It is your duty as an employer to remind your employees that they must conduct checks on their breathing apparatus for their own safety. The face protection should be a firm yet tight fit to the employees face which should not move when in motion and the employees should perform a seal check each time they put on the respirator.

Employees can either perform a positive-pressure check or negative-pressure check depending on their environment.

Positive Pressure

Your employees must block the exhalation valve on a half or full facepiece respirator, or covering the respirator’s surface using your hands, before breathing out. If pressure builds up and is felt within the mask, then the seal is fit and appropriate for workplace use. 

Negative Pressure

Your employees must block the intake valve on a half or full facepiece respirator, or cover the respirator’s surface using your hands before breathing in. If no air enters, then the seal is fit and appropriate for workplace use.

It’s important to maintain these checks prior to every use as a precaution for any deteriorating facepiece seals.

Be wary of these considerations

It’s important that when both you and your employees perform their fit tests, that facial hair is kept to an absolute minimum so that results remain accurate and reliable. Any slight facial hair between the seal and the employee’s face can distort test results and lead to potentially unsafe facial equipment by dampening the seal’s effectiveness.

However, you can save time with Xamax

Here at Xamax we stock our own safety-certified respiratory protection that complies with UK legislation that has been pre-selected so you don’t have to. Purchase with confidence knowing our face protection comes from leading brands and you can focus at the tasks at hand.

If you’re still not sure on what complies and what doesn't, you can check out our workwear buying guide that we've put together. The guide covers everything from avoiding common errors to ordering workwear items that comply with specific legislation. Grab your copy below:

Xamax Buying Guide

Topics: Buying Workwear