Every year, proper respiratory protection prevents hundreds of lung-related deaths and thousands of lung-related illnesses, including cancer, asthma, COPD, and many others. About 5 million U.S. workers in 1.3 million workplaces are required to wear respirators on the job, to protect them from insufficient oxygen, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, vapors, and sprays, as well as infectious matter.
Yet many workers continue to go unprotected. According to OSHA, violation of the Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) is one of its top 10 most frequently cited standards during workplace inspections.
Here’s what you need to know to ensure your workers are protected and that your workplace complies with the standard.
It’s important to note that while respirators are an important tool for protecting workers’ lungs, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as respirators, should always be viewed as a last line of defense.
Effective worker safety starts with assessing workplace hazards and eliminating as many as possible. This includes assessing where workers may be exposed to hazardous fumes, sprays, vapors, infectious material, and other sources of hazardous air quality and, where possible, eliminating the source of air contamination and/or instituting engineering control measures to mitigate the hazard.
When these hazards cannot be eliminated or fully mitigated, then it may be necessary to equip and train your people with appropriate respiratory protection.
OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.134 requires that “a respirator shall be provided to each employee when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of such employee.” It also requires that employers:
The correct respiratory protection for the job depends on a number of factors, and it’s critical to get it right. Protective equipment ranges from simple dust masks to full-face vapor and particulate masks with positive-pressure supplied air. At the extreme end, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) gear may be required.
There are two main types of respirators:
Respirators can also be classified as tight-fitting or loose-fitting.
It’s important that respiratory protection is selected by a person knowledgeable both in OSHA standards and in industrial hygiene. In addition, once you choose to utilize respiratory protection, you will be required to receive a healthcare provider or physician approval for that employee to utilize respiratory protection. An on-staff safety officer may have the necessary qualifications, or you may choose to bring in a certified industrial hygienist to establish an appropriate program for your workplace.
Proper respiratory protection could prevent millions of dollars in worker’s compensation and lost wages every year, not to mention the pain and suffering of injured workers. Yet simply hanging respirators in the work area is not enough. Here are some common mistakes you may be making.
The employer is responsible for selecting appropriate respirators to protect employees from airborne hazards. To ensure that the correct respirator is selected, employers must consider a number of factors. Protecting workers’ lungs requires knowledge, planning, and investment. Attention to these matters should be included in periodic safety and industrial hygiene reviews. A good industrial hygiene assessment will identify measures to take to reduce worker exposure to hazards, as well as recommend the right respiratory protection and training for your specific work environments.
Contact us today to schedule your next safety and industrial hygiene assessment with GLE.