OSHA estimates that 5 million U.S. workers are required to wear respirators. These respirators protect workers from cancer, lung impairment, diseases, or even death caused by insufficient oxygen, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, and sprays. Despite the abundant use of respirators, the standard for respiratory protection has been the fourth most frequently cited OSHA standard from 2011 to 2014.
What do you need to know to meet the respiratory protection standard and protect your workforce?
The preferred method of reducing worker exposure to airborne hazards is the use of engineering controls such as proper ventilation. But when these controls are not feasible, the use of respirators is needed to protect workers.
There are two ways respirators protect workers:
- They remove contaminants from the air, or
- They supply clean air from an outside source.
Within these two methods there are several types of respirators, and choosing the proper respirator for your workers depends on numerous factors. To learn more about respirator types and how to choose the right one for you, visit OSHA’s Respirator Selection eTool. OSHA does require all respirators to be certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). A list of certified equipment can be found on the NIOSH site.
It is important to read the entire standard, but in summary, OSHA requires employers to do the following:
- Use engineering controls where feasible to control the hazard;
- Provide an appropriate respirator;
- Ensure the use of an appropriate respirator; and
- Institute a respiratory protection program that complies with the standard.
Written Respiratory Protection Program
One of the most common violations of the standard pertains to the requirement for employers to develop and implement a written respiratory protection program. This is specifically standard 1910.134(c). It requires the program to include:
- Procedures for selecting respirators for use in the workplace;
- Medical evaluations of employees required to use respirators;
- Fit testing procedures for tight-fitting respirators;
- Procedures for proper use of respirators in routine and reasonably foreseeable emergency situations;
- Procedures and schedules for cleaning, disinfecting, storing, inspecting, repairing, discarding, and otherwise maintaining respirators;
- Procedures to ensure adequate air quality, quantity, and flow of breathing air for atmosphere-supplying respirators;
- Training of employees in the respiratory hazards to which they are potentially exposed during routine and emergency situations;
- Training of employees in the proper use of respirators, including putting on and removing them, any limitations on their use, and their maintenance; and
- Procedures for regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the program.
Voluntary Use Of Respirators
When the use of respirators is not required, the standard does allow employers to provide respirators to employees who request them. Additionally, employers can allow employees to use their own respirators as long as the employer determines that the use of the respirator will not create a hazard itself.
If voluntary use of respirators is allowed by the employer, you must also provide workers with a copy of Appendix D, as well as develop and implement an additional written program to cover the medical fitness and proper maintenance procedures. For filtering face piece respirators such as dust masks, only a copy of Appendix D must be supplied.
- OSHA Safety and Health Topics – Respiratory Protection
- OSHA Respiratory Protection training videos
- OSHA Respiratory Protection eTool
- NIOSH Workplace Safety & Health Topics – Respirators