Features September 2017 Issue

Checking Respirators for Fit

A respirator can’t protect you if it doesn’t fit your face. It’s that simple. Anything that prevents a good seal—whether facial hair or a hollow under the side of your jaw—is unacceptable. In a workplace this fit test will be performed in a very rigid manner by a trained technician. However, for the sailor/occasional boat yard worker, we offer this shortcut procedure that is far better than nothing.

Scott AV-300 mask
If you are farsighted, you can mount cheap reading glasses inside a full face mask. A mask such as the Scott AV-300, our top rated face mask.

Adjust the facemask to fit. Include any protective equipment you may wear, including goggles, eyeglasses, and hearing protection.

Install organic vapor cartridges if applicable.

Spray a fine mist of perfume into the air, so that it drifts down over your head. For a dust mask or particulate filter, a good dusting of black pepper or a spray of very salty water will also work. Grimace or smile broadly while repeating the alphabet for 15 seconds. Tilt your head up and down and rotate side to side while testing. If you can smell the perfume, you failed the test. If the pepper made you sneeze or you taste pepper, you failed the test. Adjust the straps and start over.

Don’t assume the respirator model your dock mate swears by will fit you properly. Like shoes, it’s not just the size, it’s also the shape. Choose the one that fits you properly, and the pair it with NIOSH-rated cartridges. It will work.

If you have facial hair, full-face respirators can be more tolerant of mustaches than half-face respirators. Sometimes wetting the whiskers down with Vaseline helps. Trimming is the safest option.

Return any mask that does not pass this fit test. Worse than not functioning properly, it gives you false security.

Each time you use a cartridge-type mask, perform an inward leakage test. Remove or block the cartridges with tape, and try to inhale. It should suck to your face, with no leaks, and maintain the vacuum for at least a few seconds. This confirms you are wearing it properly and that it is not damaged. Adjust until it seals.

Clean after every use; if it isn’t clean, you might forego using it—at great risk. Don’t forget to order spare cartridges and parts before you need them.

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