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What is the 'rainbow passage' when it comes to respirator fit tests?

By Jessica Barrett | Last updated: October 29, 2021
Presented by Moldex

Of the seven different exercises performed during a respirator fit test, the “rainbow passage” features in the fifth exercise: talking. It’s a short and phonetically balanced passage that reflects the variety of sounds and mouth movements used in normal, unscripted English speech. Having employees read the passage as part of the fit test ensures that they can carry out normal speech patterns while wearing the respirator.

The seven fit test exercises are:

  1. Normal breathing while in a normal standing position
  2. Deep breathing while in a normal standing position
  3. Turning head side to side slowly, while standing in one place
  4. Moving head up and down slowly, while standing in one place
  5. Talking out loud, slowly and loudly enough to be heard clearly by the test conductor (reading the rainbow passage)
  6. Grimacing
  7. Bending over
  8. Normal breathing while in a normal standing position (again)

What Is the “Rainbow Passage”

The rainbow passage reads as follows:


When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act as a prism and form a rainbow. The rainbow is a division of white light into many beautiful colors. These take the shape of a long round arch, with its path high above, and its two ends apparently beyond the horizon. There is, according to legend, a boiling pot of gold at one end. People look, but no one ever finds it. When a man looks for something beyond reach, his friends say he is looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Fit Testing a Respirator

Fit testing is critically important for respirators, and OSHA advocates for it on a regular basis. Though it can be laborious and time-consuming, it helps avert a potential tragedy that could result from respirator fit changes over time.

(Learn about the 6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Respiratory Protection Device.)

A fit test is performed to confirm that the respirator fits adequately, forms a tight seal on the user’s face, and prevents the user from being exposed to respiratory hazards in the environment.

A fit test should be performed in the following circumstances:

  • Prior to first use at workplace
  • With changes in weight
  • With changes in facial hair
  • With dental work that may alter the facial structure
  • When changing the style, size, or model of the respirator
  • If the user feels a change in fitting
  • At least once a year

Requirements for fit testing are detailed in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) 1910.134 App A - Fit Testing Procedures (Mandatory), Appendix A.

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Written by Jessica Barrett

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Jessica is a freelance writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. She specializes in creating content for nonprofits and has written for organizations working in human rights, conservation, education, and health care. She loves traveling and food, speaks Spanish, and has two dogs, one of whom she rescued while living in Mexico.

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