Assessment of the NIOSH Head-and-Face Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Respirator Users

Type: Consensus Study
Topics: Biomedical and Health Research, Children and Families, Diseases, Health Care Workforce, Public Health, Select Populations and Health Equity
Board: Board on Health Sciences Policy

Activity Description


Respiratory protection depends, in part, on the fit of the respirator to the user. In certifying respirators, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) uses the results of testing for fit on a panel of human test subjects to determine if a respirator meets the approval requirements.  The panel used to evaluate the fit of half-mask respirators is based on face length and lip length and the panel for evaluating full-facepiece respirators is based on face length and face width. For this reason, the appropriateness in composition of that panel is very important. Current criteria for the composition of the test panel are based on military data collected more than 30 years ago.

NIOSH revised the panel of individual facial characteristics, and established a new anthropometric database. The revised panel is intended to be used in benchmark testing and in setting criteria for industry. The report outlining the methodology and results of this NIOSH study is the foundation of the IOM committee's task.

Specifically, the IOM committee reviewed the 2004 NIOSH report, "Assessment of the NIOSH Head-and-Face Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Respirator Users." The committee examined the adequacy and validity of the NIOSH study, the data collected, and the recommended revisions to the set (panel) of facial characteristics (anthropometric features) that are to be used in testing the fit of respirators.

This review examined both the content and the form of the study, the appropriateness of its panel, and the adequacy of the resultant data. Issues that were addressed include whether the revised panel of facial characteristics is representative of the diverse U.S. workforce and the adequacy of the anthropometric features and parameters considered in the revised panel.  The committee made recommendations concerning additional analyses that NIOSH might undertake to obtain further information regarding the revisions to the respirator panel. The committee also examined how the data obtained from the study was analyzed, conclusions reached from the data, and recommended additional information that NIOSH might derive from current and possible future efforts.

Finally, the committee suggested a model for translating the suggested respirator criteria derived from research into practice with consideration given to the potential economic and social impact these changes would have on both manufacturers and the workforce.

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