Must I be medically evaluated and cleared to use a respirator?

Q:

Must I be medically evaluated and cleared to use a respirator? If so, who performs the evaluation and who is responsible to pay for it?

A:

To maintain the safety of all workers, OSHA standards mandate that every employee required or volunteering to use a respirator undergo a medical evaluation. This helps ensure that the individual can tolerate the physiological burden associated with respirator use.

Potential issues include:

  • Musculoskeletal stress
  • Auditory, visual, and odor sensation limitations
  • Isolation from the workplace environment

Your Medical History

If you have existing medical conditions or concerns about your physiological state, it’s important to bring them to your healthcare provider’s attention at this time. OSHA notes that certain medical conditions can compromise an employee’s ability to tolerate these physiological burdens. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
  • Reduced pulmonary function (caused by smoking, for example)
  • Epilepsy
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Perforated ear drums

Employees managing psychological conditions like claustrophobia and severe anxiety should also bring these to the healthcare provider’s attention. Both can impair the effective use of respirators and cause events (such as increased blood pressure and heart rate) that can jeopardize the health of already-at-risk employees.

For these reasons, a medical evaluation is necessary for every employee using a respirator, regardless of how long or how often they are using it.

What Is the Process?

Employees should complete the OSHA-provided medical questionnaire and undergo examination confidentially and during normal working hours. Employers are prohibited from viewing the questionnaire answers and must instead direct the employee on how to send the completed form to the relevant physician or licensed healthcare professional. Online options are also available and may be more convenient for some businesses (read about 11 Workplace Wellness Efforts That Help Improve Workplace Safety).

What Happens Next?

Once the medical evaluation form is complete, a health care professional (HCP) will review it to assess whether:

  • A follow-up examination is necessary
  • The worker may use a respirator with no restrictions
  • The worker may use a respirator with certain restrictions (for example, they may use a positive pressure respirator but not a negative pressure one)
  • The worker isn’t cleared to use a respirator of any kind

The HCP will provide both the worker and the employer with a medical clearance letter – void of any confidential information – stating the results of the medical evaluation.

What if I Answer Yes to Some of the Questions?

In the case of an employee who answers "yes" to any question among questions 1 through 8 in Part A, Section 2, employers must arrange a follow-up examination. You will be given an opportunity to discuss the questionnaire and examination results with the HCP to further evaluate your ability to perform work using a respirator (learn more about the 6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Respiratory Protection Device).

Conclusion

Medical evaluation and clearance is serious business, and this isn’t the time to stretch the truth about your medical history. Respirator use can provoke serious reactions in some individuals, and being completely truthful on your medical questionnaire ensures that if you use a respirator at work, you do so safely.

A sample medical evaluation questionnaire can be found on OSHA’s website.

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Written by Jessica Barrett
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Jessica is a freelance writer, editor, and communications consultant. After starting her career in the travel industry, she branched out on her own in 2016 and hasn't looked back since. Jessica is a regular contributor to several websites and works with numerous small businesses and NGOs around the world to craft content for both online and offline platforms. When she isn't writing, you might find her practicing yoga or adventuring (aka eating) her way through a new country.

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