Jason Anglin, Safety & Risk Management Council 4-2019
Respirators are a form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used to protect employees when a respiratory hazard cannot be eliminated by other means such as engineering, tooling or administrative practices.
If a respiratory hazard exists or is suspected, the employer needs to develop a written respiratory program that identifies potential airborne hazards. Once hazards are identified, the employer must determine their methodology for protecting their workers from those hazards. Many companies choose to include respirators as part of the control measures to protect their employees. The written plan should include:
• Types of respiratory or airborne hazards workers may encounter
• Control measures to keep workers safe
• How those control measures will be implemented
• A designate program administrator qualified to oversee the program
To be OSHA compliant, prior to issuing a worker a respirator an employer must do the following:
• Train the worker to understand how to properly use and maintain the respirator. Workers should know when they can and cannot use company issued respirators to protect themselves. For example, a worker should know that a ½ face respirator and P100 cartridge used to protect against silica dust cannot be used for Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) environments such as low oxygen.
• Medically evaluate the employee to assure they can safely use the issued respirator. An individual may have a health condition that could prevent them from using a respirator.
• Fit test the employee to make sure the issued respirator can safely protect them. Each individual is different and an employer must ensure that the PPE issued can protect a given employee from anticipated hazards. For tight fitting, air purifying respirators, a fit test must be performed to confirm the seal between the worker’s face and the respirator will guard against the hazard.
OSHA can cite an employer for failure to comply with the respiratory protection standard found; Standard number 1926.103 (Construction) and 1910.134 (Industry). However, by developing a good written program and following the guidelines above an employer can protect their workers and avoid costly citations.