Quick Q&A: Expert answers EHPs’ fit-test questions

(Employee health professionals face logistical issues as they scramble to fit-test hundreds of employees. Hospital Employee Health posed some common fit-testing questions to respiratory protection expert Roy McKay, PhD, director of the occupational pulmonology services program at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.)

Question: What is the most common error you see in performing qualitative fit-testing?

Answer: Not following proper procedures resulting in test results that may be incorrect. For example, not squeezing the hand bulb properly resulting in insufficient generation of aerosol, not continuing the test for the proper length of time, improper use of the hand held nebulizer bulb.

Question: How many employees can be properly fit-tested at one time?

Answer: One.

Question: In qualitative fit-testing, is Bitrex or saccharin more effective — or are they equally effective?

Answer: On a population basis, they are essentially similar, although some individuals may not taste one or the other equally.

Question: How can you prevent employees from having a lingering taste of Bitrex or saccharin after the fit-testing is complete?

Answer: Tell employees to rinse their mouth with water and use a wet face cloth to wipe the face and lips.

Question: What steps should you take to prevent room contamination with the testing substance, which may affect subsequent tests?

Answer: Be sure to use a room that has adequate ventilation.

Question: If an employee is documented to be able to taste saccharin, is it necessary to repeat sensitivity testing every year?

Answer: Absolutely.

Question: Is the train-the-trainer approach, when employee health professionals train department managers to fit-test their own employees, an effective strategy?

Answer: Yes, if training program is conducted properly.

Question: OSHA recently approved a new fit-testing protocol. Does this apply to the N95 filtering facepiece respirators that many hospitals use?

Answer: The new protocol is to be used only with the controlled negative-pressure method of fit-testing, which is not applicable to filtering facepiece respirators.

(For information on courses on fit-testing and respiratory protection, go to www.drmckay.com.)