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Breathe Easy: The User Seal Test

- April 18, 2016 by Guest Bloggers (View all posts by Guest)

Airborne contaminants can pose a serious threat to workers’ health.  To prevent injury and illness from those contaminants,  employers must determine the severity of the threat, and if needed, provide controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce that threat.  It is estimated that five million workers throughout the U.S. are required to wear respirators at their place of work. 

When selecting respirators for the workplace, OSHA requires that different sizes or types be made available to ensure that workers can select a respirator that provides them with the best fit.  A Fit Test conducted by a qualified Fit Tester can confirm that an employee has chosen the right respirator.  I’ll go into selection and fit testing in more details in my upcoming blogs.

For this post, I’ll be discussing the User Seal Test (positive/negative pressure test)—a test that should be performed each time the respirator is worn to ensure that it fits properly. 

Be sure to refer to the instructions provided by your respirator manufacturer for  specific guidance about the seal test.  In general, there are two tests that should be done.  

Positive Pressure Tests

1. Put on (don) the respirator according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

2.  Cover the exhalation valve with the palm of your hand (being careful to avoid distorting the mask by using gentle pressure on the valve cover).

3. Slowly exhale, but not to the level that you break the seal around your face.

4. While doing this, the respirator should expand slightly away from your face.

5. If there are no leaks or loss of pressure before the respirator expands, the seal is adequate.

Negative Pressure Tests

1. Put on the respirator according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. Cover and seal the filter cartridges using the palms of your hands.

3. Slowly inhale and hold your breath for about 10 seconds.  You should notice the respirator partially collapse (slightly) against your face.  While you’re holding your breath, the respirator should stay in the collapsed condition (if you can’t get a good seal with your hands, small sections of plastic wrap can be used on the surface of the cartridges).

4. If the respirator stays somewhat collapsed for all 10 seconds, then a good seal has been achieved.

Each time a respirator is used, it should be properly sealed, fitted and re-adjusted as needed. By following these easy steps, you will be reducing the risk of worker exposure to workplace chemicals, as well as expanding their quality of life by providing them with a safe and healthy workplace! Stay tuned for my next blog on this topic, “Breathe Easy: Fit Testing for your Employees’ Safety.”