Qualitative vs Quantitative Fit Testing

29th Apr 2024

Qualitative vs Quantitative fit testing, let’s dive in!

Qualitative vs Quantitative

In the realm of workplace safety, particularly in environments where respiratory hazards are prevalent, fit testing plays a crucial role in ensuring the effectiveness of protective masks. Fit testing is a process to assess the seal and fit of a mask on an individual’s face and comes in two primary methods, Qualitative and Quantitative. Understanding the differences between these approaches is essential for companies to choose the most suitable method for their specific needs.


Qualitative Fit Testing


What is Qualitative Fit Testing?

Qualitative fit testing is a method used to assess the adequacy of a mask fit by detecting leaks around the face seal. Qualitative fit testing relies on the wearer’s subjective response to a taste agent introduced while wearing the mask.


The Test Process

During a qualitative fit test, one of our accredited Fit2Fit Cavity fit testers will administer a series of test exercises while the wearer is wearing the mask.

These exercises typically include:

  • Normal breathing
  • Heavy breathing
  • Moving their head side to side
  • Moving their head up and down
  • Counting from 100 backwards
  • Bowing up and down

A test agent is then introduced in a controlled manner. If the wearer detects a taste, it indicates a leakage. This suggests that the respirator is not providing adequate protection. However, if no leakage is detected, it suggests it is a suitable fit.


Advantages of qualitative fit testing:

  • Simple Procedure: Qualitative fit testing is relatively straightforward and does not require specialised equipment beyond the testing agent and hood.
  • Cost-effective: Compared to quantitative fit testing, qualitative methods are often more cost-effective, making them accessible to a wider range of companies and workplaces.
  • Portable: Qualitative fit testing can be conducted in various settings, including remote locations or smaller work environments, without the need for bulky equipment.
  • Subjective Sensation: Since qualitative fit testing relies on the wearer’s subjective response to the testing agent, it can provide immediate feedback on whether the mask is properly sealed and comfortable to wear.
  • Compliance with Regulations: In many industries, qualitative fit testing meets regulatory requirements for assessing the effectiveness of respiratory protective equipment.


Limitations of qualitative fit testing:

  • Subjectivity: One of the primary limitations of qualitative fit testing is its subjective nature. The wearer’s response to the testing agent may vary, leading to inconsistencies in results.
  • Limited Sensitivity: Qualitative fit testing may not be as sensitive as quantitative methods in detecting small leaks or inadequacies in mask fit. This could result in false negatives, where a mask is deemed acceptable despite minor leaks.
  • Inability to Quantify Fit: Unlike quantitative fit testing, which provides numerical data on the fit factor, qualitative testing does not qualify the degree of mask fit. This makes it challenging to compare results objectively or track changes over time.


Quantitative Fit Testing


What is Quantitative Fit Testing?

Quantitative fit testing is a method used to assess the adequacy of a mask’s fit by objectively measuring the amount of leakage into the mask area. Quantitative fit testing provides quantitative data on the extent of leakage, offering a more precise assessment of mask fit.


The Test Process

Quantitative fit testing is a method utilised to assess the effectiveness of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) in achieving a proper seal on an individual's face. Using specialised equipment such as a Portacount machine, which employs particle counting technology, the seal and fit of the mask are evaluated in real-time.

Before the individual is connected to the machine, a pre-test is conducted to ascertain the particle concentration in the air. Subsequently, the Portacount measures particle concentrations both inside and outside the mask to determine the fit factor. This fit factor indicates how effectively the mask seals to the wearer's face.

During the test, the individual wears the mask connected to the Portacount. A fit factor of at least 100 is typically required for a respirator to be deemed adequately fitting. If the fit factor falls short of this threshold, the test is considered a failure. Signifying that the mask does not properly fit the wearer.


Advantages of quantitative fit testing:

  • Objective Measurement: Quantitative fit testing provides objective numerical data on the fit factor, which represents the ratio of ambient particles to particles inside the mask. This objective measurement allows for more accurate and consistent assessment of respirator fit compared to qualitative methods.
  • High-Sensitivity: Quantitative fit testing methods are more sensitive than qualitative methods in detecting small leaks or inadequacies in mask fit.
  • Accuracy: Quantitative fit testing uses specialised equipment, such as a Portacount machine, which is designed to accurately measure the concentration of particles inside and outside the respirator. The accuracy enhances the reliability of the fit testing results.


Limitations of quantitative fit testing:

  • Equipment Complexity: Quantitative fit testing requires specialised equipment, such as a Portacount machine, which is expensive.
  • Cost: The initial investment in quantitative fit testing equipment and training can be substantial compared to qualitative methods.
  • Time Consuming: Quantitative fit testing may take longer to administer compared to qualitative methods, as it involves setup of specialised equipment.
  • Limited Portability: Some quantitative fit testing equipment may be less portable than qualitative methods, making it impractical for use in remote or field settings. This limitation may restrict the accessibility of fit testing in certain work environments.

We offer both types of fit testing at Cavity. However, we can only provide the quantitative method here at our Head Office in Winnersh. Qualitative is available at both your workplace and here at Head Office. For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact Sarah on 0118 9079875 or Lisa on 0118 4023795. They are always happy to help with any enquiries you may have.

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