Whenever employees need respirators to perform work, employers have the responsibility to implement a respiratory protection program. OSHA regulates the requirements for this program.
When considering a respiratory protection program, responsibility of administering the program should be assigned to one person. A central authority ensures consistent coordination and direction. An actual respiratory protection program will vary widely depending on many factors and may require input from specialists such as safety personnel, industrial hygienists, health physicists, and physicians.
The OSHA respiratory protection standard is found in 29 CFR 1910.134. The standard lists six key elements that every respiratory protection program should contain. These six elements are:
- A written plan detailing how the program will be administered.
- A complete assessment and knowledge of respiratory hazards that will be encountered in the workplace.
- Procedures and equipment to control respiratory hazards, including the use of engineering controls, and work practices designed to limit or reduce employee exposure to such hazards.
- Guidelines for the proper selection of appropriate respiratory protective equipment.
- An employee training program covering hazard recognition, dangers associated with respiratory hazards, and proper care and use of respiratory protective equipment.
- Medical surveillance of employees.
Before initiating a respiratory protection program, it is important to first understand the types of respiratory hazards inherent to your industry. Of the three normally-recognized ways toxic materials can enter the body (gastrointestinal tract, skin, lungs), the body’s respiratory system presents the quickest and most direct avenue of entry. This is because of the respiratory system’s direct relationship with the circulatory system and the body’s constant need to oxygenate tissue cells to sustain life.
There are three basic classifications of respiratory hazards: oxygen-deficient air, particulate contaminants, and gas and vapor contaminants.
- Oxygen deficiency - When oxygen levels are below 19.5 percent, the air is considered to be oxygen deficient.
- Particulate contaminants - The various types of particulate contaminants can be classified as follows:
A. Fumes – Aerosols created when solid materials are vaporized at high temperatures and then cooled. Fumes result from operations like welding.
B. Dusts – Mechanically-produced solid particles derived from the breaking up of larger particles. The worst dust producers are sanding, grinding, crushing, and sandblasting
C. Mists – An aerosol formed by liquids. Mists can be created by spraying, plating, or boiling.
- Gas and vapor contaminants - Gas contaminants are similar to air in that they possess the same ability to diffuse freely within an area or container. Examples of gases are nitrogen, chlorine and carbon dioxide. Vapors are the gaseous state of substances that are liquids or solids at room temperature. They are formed when the solid or liquid evaporates. Examples of liquids that produce vapors are gasoline, solvents, and thinners.
Proper assessment of a hazard is the first important step to protection. This requires a thorough knowledge of processes, equipment, raw materials, end-products, and by-products that can create an exposure hazard. To determine an atmosphere’s oxygen content or concentration levels of particulate and/or gaseous contaminants, air samples must be taken with proper sampling instruments during all conditions of operation.
For proper use of any respiratory protection device, it is essential that the user is properly instructed in its selection, use, and maintenance. Supervisors and employees must be instructed by competent persons as defined by OSHA. Minimum training must include:
- Methods of recognizing respiratory hazards
- Instruction in the hazards and an honest appraisal of what could happen if the proper respiratory protection device is not used
- Explanation of why more positive control is not immediately feasible
- Discussion of the respiratory protection device’s capabilities and limitations
- Instruction and training in actual use of respiratory protection equipment and supervision to assure it continues to be used properly
- Classroom and field training to recognize and cope with emergency situations
- Fit testing the respiratory protection device’s face-to-face piece seal
Respirator Care and Inspection
Proper inspection, maintenance, and repair of respiratory protective equipment are mandatory to ensure success of any respiratory protection program. The goal is to maintain the equipment in a condition that provides the same effectiveness it has when first manufactured. All respiratory protective equipment must be inspected before and after each use. A record must be kept of periodic inspections.
Employees must never be assigned to any operations requiring respiratory protection until a physician has determined that they are physically and psychologically able to wear a respirator.
OSHA 29 CFR 1910.134
WCF Insurance Safety Department
NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.