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Respiratory Protection for Public Workers

Sponsored by OHD

​By Stephanie Lynch

Public workers are responsible for teaching our children, putting out fires, and protecting our streets. They do things daily that we may take for granted, including cleaning our water, picking up our trash, and maintaining our roads. Despite all the work they do to keep our communities functioning, many public workers are not provided the same safety and health protections as those of us who work in the private sector. Nothing suggests that any of the jobs public workers perform are less dangerous than those of their private-sector counterparts, and there is no reason to assume public workers receive the same safety and health considerations without these protections in place. Labor advocacy groups have been fighting for years across the country to expand safety and health protections to cover public workers. Thus far, only 28 states extend OSHA protections to their public employees. As of Feb. 1, 2019, Massachusetts has joined these states.  

The extension of OSHA protections to public workers is a huge step in the right direction. It will ensure public employees are provided appropriate training and personal protective programs and equipment that are up to the private sector’s standards. It is likely that many public employees are not even aware of some of the ways the municipalities they work for have overlooked their safety. The municipalities themselves may not be aware of some of the ways they may be putting their employees at risk. 

One area that is often overlooked for our public employees is a respiratory protection program with annual fit-testing. Many public employees are required to wear a respirator as a function of their job, but they are not provided appropriate training or fit-testing. OSHA requires anyone who wears a respirator as a part of their job to be fit-tested. Fit-testing is a process in which all people who are required to wear respirators are examined and interviewed to determine which mask best fits their facial features; it typically involves a rigorous protocol in which the tester challenges the face-to-facepiece seal with a challenge agent. This process ensures the safety of the employee wearing the respirator.  

There are two different types of fit testing, qualitative fit testing (QLFT) and quantitative fit testing (QNFT). QLFT is a pass/fail, subjective test method that relies on a person’s sense of taste or smell or their reaction to an irritant to detect leakage into the respirator facepiece. The respirator passes or fails the test based on the person’s detection of the test substance. Any QLFT method provides an inherent fit factor pass level of 100—that is, a QLFT test will have either a score of zero or 100. QLFT is only appropriate for disposable or half-mask respirators. QNFT utilizes an instrument to measure leak. QNFT methods are objective. One OSHA approved method of QNFT is the OHD Quantifit.  

To read more about quantitative fit-testing with OHD’s Quantifit, read the full version of this blog post at OHD.com


Stephanie Lynch is a product manager at OHD. She holds a Master of Public Health – Environmental Health Sciences – Industrial Hygiene from The University of Alabama at Birmingham, a Master of Industrial and Systems Engineering Occupational Safety Ergonomics and Injury Prevention from Auburn University, and a PhD in Industrial and Systems Engineering Occupational Safety Ergonomics and Injury Prevention from Auburn University. She has spent years in the industrial hygiene market, specifically in respiratory protection research. ​

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