An estimated 5 million workers are required to wear respirators in 1.3 million workplaces in the US. Respirators are protective devices that cover the nose and mouth or the entire face or head to guard against hazardous atmospheres. They may be tight fitting if they cover the mouth and nose or face; or loose fitting if they cover the whole head completely. There are two types of respirators. There is air-purifying which remove contaminants from the air; and atmosphere-supplying, which provide clean, breathable air from an uncontaminated source. The atmosphere-supplying respirators are for more hazardous exposures.

Employees should wear respirators when they are working in environments with insufficient oxygen or where harmful dusts, smokes, fogs, vapors, gases, fumes or sprays are present. These hazards can cause cancer, lung impairment, other diseases or death. Employees should wear respirators whenever engineering and work practice control measures are not adequate to prevent atmospheric contamination at the worksite. Respirators have limitations and are not a substitute for effective engineering and workplace controls. Respirators are for when controls to reduce airborne contaminants below their occupational exposure levels, such as during maintenance and repair, emergencies or when engineering controls are being installed. In cases where engineering controls and work practices cannot reduce exposure levels, respirator use is essential.

OSHA requires employers to establish and maintain an effective respiratory protection program when employees must wear respirators to protect against workplace hazards. Different hazards require different respirators, and employees are responsible for wearing the appropriate respirator and complying with the program. The standard contains requirements for program administration, worksite-specific procedures, respirator selection, employee training, fit testing, medical evaluation and respirator use, cleaning, maintenance, and repair. Employers must train employees in all aspects of the respiratory protection program. A program administrator must be responsible for the program and should know enough about respirators to supervise the program properly. Any respirator program should stress thorough training of all respirator users. Respirators do not eliminate the hazard and employees must be aware of this. If the respirator fails, the user will be overexposed to dangerous substances. To reduce failure, the respirator must fit properly and be maintained in a clean and serviceable condition. Employers and employees must understand the respirator’s purpose and limitations. Users must not alter or remove the respirator even if it is uncomfortable even for a short time. Whenever OSHA standards or employers require respirator use, there must be a complete respiratory protection program. Employers must have written operating procedures to ensure that employees use the respirators safely and properly. Employers must evaluate the effectiveness of a company’s respirator program regularly and modify the written operating procedure as necessary to reflect the evaluation results.

Choosing the right equipment involves: determining what the hazard is and its extent, considering user factors that affect respirator performance and reliability, and selecting an appropriate National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health-certified respirator. When selecting respirators, employers must consider the chemical and physical properties of the contaminant, as well as the toxicity and concentration of the hazardous material and the amount of oxygen present. Other factors are nature and extent of the hazard, work rate, area to be covered, mobility, work requirements and conditions, as well as the limitations and characteristics of the available respirators. Air-purifying respirators use filters to remove harmful substances from the air. They do not supply oxygen and must not be used in oxygen-deficient atmospheres or in other atmospheres that are immediately dangerous to life or health. Atmosphere-supplying respirators are designed to provide breathable air from a clean air source other than the surrounding contaminated work atmosphere. They include supplied-air respirators and self-contained breathing apparatus units. The time needed to perform a given task, including the time necessary to enter and leave a contaminated area, is an important factor in determining the type of respiratory protection needed. Self-contained breathing apparatus units, gas masks, or air-purifying chemical-cartridge respirators provide protection for respiratory protection for relatively short periods. An atmosphere-supplying respirator that supplies breathable air from an air compressor through an airline can provide protection for extended periods. Respirators must not impair the worker’s ability to see, hear, communicate, and move as necessary to perform the job safely. You should also consider when using respirators is the air-supply rate. The wearer’s work rate determines the volume of air breathed per minute and it is very important to know how much air needs to be supplied. The peak airflow rate also is important in the use of a constant-flow supplied air respirator. The air-supply rate should always be greater than the maximum amount of air being inhaled in order to maintain the respiratory enclosure under positive pressure.

In situations that are immediately dangerous to life or health usually need full-facepiece pressure demand self-contained breathing apparatus units. These include oxygen deficiency and contaminated atmospheres. In situations that are not immediately dangerous to life or health can usually be covered by positive-pressure supplied air respirators. These include gas and vapor contaminants and particulate contaminants.

Training is essential for correct respirator use. All employees required to use respirators must receive instruction in the proper use of equipment and its limitations. Employers should develop training programs based on the employee’s education level and language. Training must include an explanation of why respirator use is necessary; the nature of the respiratory hazard and consequences of not fitting,, using, and maintaining the respirator properly; reasons for selecting a particular type of respirator; capabilities and limitations of the selected respirator; how to inspect, put on and remover, and check the seals of the respirator; respirator maintenance and storage requirements; how to use the respirator effectively in emergency situations, including when the respirator malfunctions; and how to recognize medical signs and symptoms that may limit or prevent the effective use of the respirator. Continued use of poorly fitted and maintained respirators can cause chronic disease or death from overexposure to air contaminants.

Employers should provide a sufficient number of respirator models and sizes because no one respirator fits everyone and every employee must be able to select an acceptable respirator that fits properly. It is also important to inspect all respirators for wear and tear before and after each use. Corrective eyeglasses, facial hair, facial deformities or jewelry can all affect the fit of a facepiece. You should give special attention to rubber or plastic parts that can deteriorate or lose pliability. All pieces of the respirator must be in good condition. Users should replace chemical cartridges and gas mask canisters as necessary to provide complete protection, following the manufacturer’s recommendations. You should also replace mechanical filters as necessary to avoid high resistance to breathing. You should also check the facepiece each time you wear the respirator to ensure proper respiratory protection. You should do this by performing either a positive-pressure or negative-pressure user seal check. Only experienced people should make repairs based on the manufacturer’s recommendations and parts.

Fit testing is required for tight-fitting facepiece respirators. One way to test is qualitatively. This involves the introduction of a harmless odoriferous or irritating substance into the breathing zone around the respirator being worn. If no odor or irritation is detected by the wearer, then there is a proper fit. Another way is quantitatively. This offers a more accurate, detailed information on respirator fit. While the wearer performs exercises that could induce facepiece leakage, a fit testing instrument numerically measures the amount of leakage into the respirator.

Users must store respirators in a way that protects them from dust, heat, extreme cold, excessive moisture, and damaging chemicals. When stored, it should be done in such a way that it retains its natural configuration. Facepieces and exhalation valves should rest in a normal position to prevent the rubber or plastic from deforming. Employers must maintain surveillance of work area conditions and the degree of worker stress which is a combination of work rate, environmental conditions and physiological burdens of wearing a respirator. Changes in operating procedures, temperature, air movement, humidity, and work practices may influence the concentration of a substance in the work area atmosphere. In situations that are dangerous to life or health, employers must ensure that one or more employees are located outside the dangerous environment and these employees must maintain visual, voice, or signal line communication with employees in that dangerous environment.

Our company can help your company by providing the training for using respirators and helping to test those respirators that you have available to your employees.