In today’s work climate, respiratory protection seems to be involved in all areas of safety, from the construction industry's issues surrounding the new silica standard requirements to indoor air quality in general industry.
This attention to respiratory safety is warranted. Having good respiratory programs could prevent hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of illness every year.
Respirators: Your Second Line of Defense
Engineering and workplace controls can go a long way to keeping your workers safe. Enclosing or confining the operations, ventilating the contaminant, or replacing the contaminant with a less toxic substance are great steps to take to reduce respiratory dangers in the workplace. However, respirators must be worn whenever these measures fail to reduce airborne exposures to safe level. Enclosing or confining the operations,
It is important to note, however, that respirators have their limits and cannot completely make up for a lack or proper engineering controls or best practices. Yet respirators can still provide adequate protection when it is not possible to reduce airborne contaminants so they fall under OSHA's Permissible Exposure Levels (PEL). For example, during specific maintenance and repair operations, when engineering controls are being installed, or when there is an emergency.
Remember, even if respirators are not your first line of defense, depending on the circumstances you're working in, they may be an essential form of protection. Without it, you are fully exposed to any dangerous chemicals in your workplace.
Respiratory Protection Programs
As per OSHA requirements, every employer must design and maintain an effective respiratory program if any of their workers face potential exposure to respiratory hazards.
There are many different respirator and cartridge combinations for different dangers and workers must know which combinations are suitable for which situations. They must also comply with the respiratory program and any other applicable regulations.
OSHA requires respiratory programs to cover at least the following:
- Requirements for program administration
- Job-site-specific procedures
- Proper respirator selection
- Proper employee training
- Initial and annual fit testing
- Medical evaluation
- Correct respirator use
- Proper cleaning, maintenance, and repair
Workers should be given clear guidelines on how to select the right equipment, how to fit and use it properly, and how to perform routine maintenance and inspections.
Employers must also train employees so they know and understand all aspects of the site-specific features of the respiratory protection program.