The effect of respirator training on the ability of healthcare workers to pass a qualitative fit test

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 1996 Oct;17(10):636-40. doi: 10.1086/647195.


Objectives: To determine the effect of different methods of training on the ability of hospital workers to wear respirators and pass a qualitative fit test, and to compare the direct cost of the training.

Design: 179 hospital employees were recruited for study and were stratified into three groups based on the type of training they received in the use of respirators. Employees in Group A received one-on-one training by the hospital's industrial hygienist and were fit tested as part of this training. Employees in Group B received classroom instruction and demonstration by infection control nurses in the proper use of respirators, but were not fit tested as part of training. Employees in Group C received no formal training. Each participant in our study underwent a subsequent qualitative fit test using irritant smoke to check for the employee's ability to adjust correctly the fit and seal of the respirator. The direct cost of each method of training was determined by accounting for the cost of trainers and the cost of employee-hours lost during training.

Setting: 775-bed Veterans' Affairs hospital.

Results: 94% of Group A participants (49 of 52) passed the qualitative fit test, compared to 91% of Group B participants (58 of 64) and 79% of Group C participants (50 of 63; P = .036, 2 x 3 chi-square). Group A had a significantly higher pass rate than Group C (P = .043), but Group B did not differ significantly from Group A or Group C. Location or professional status did not affect pass rate, but prior experience wearing respirators did. When the study groups were compared after stratifying for prior experience, we found no difference in pass rates, except when Groups A and B (those with any training) were combined and compared with Group C (107 of 116 versus 50 of 63, P = .05, Mantel-Haenszel chi-square). We estimate that the method of training involving individual instruction followed by fit testing took 20 minutes per employee to complete, compared to 10 minutes per six employee class for the method of classroom demonstration. The difference in direct cost between the two methods, applied to the training of 1,200 employees at our hospital, would be approximately $19,000 per year.

Conclusion: Our study indicates that training in the proper use of respirators is important, but the method of training may not be, as the two methods we evaluated were nearly equivalent in their pass rates on fit testing (94% versus 91%). Fit testing as part of training may have enhanced the performance of our participants marginally, but was more time consuming and accounted for most of the excess cost.

MeSH terms

  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Communicable Disease Control / economics
  • Communicable Disease Control / methods
  • Equipment Failure Analysis / economics
  • Hospital Bed Capacity, 500 and over
  • Hospitals, Veterans
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training / economics
  • Inservice Training / methods
  • Inservice Training / standards*
  • Occupational Health
  • Personnel, Hospital / education*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Respiratory Protective Devices / standards*
  • Virginia