Learn about types of respirators, how to create a protection program and more in this guide to respiratory PPE.
Confined spaces, dust-filled shops and other environments that could make the simple act of breathing dangerous are all in a day’s work for industrial workers. While keeping contaminants such as harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays and/or vapors out of the air workers breathe is the first line of defense, proper respiratory protection also is essential. If re-engineering a task or equipment fails to provide a safe working environment, employers must provide appropriate respiratory protection for every employee who might be exposed to harmful contaminants.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) regulations define the specific requirements for respiratory protection safety compliance. Employers must follow the requirements of these governmental regulations, including the general regulations that apply to all workplaces and the specific regulations for exposures in their particular industry. Examples include lead, silica dust, asbestos and ammonia.
The seven key elements that every respiratory protection program should contain, according to program details in OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134), are:
An additional OSHA requirement (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1020) requires that records of medical evaluations must be retained.
Before a respiratory protection program is initiated, it is important to first understand the types of respiratory hazards inherent to your industry.
There are three typically recognized ways toxic materials can enter the body:
Of the three, the respiratory system presents the quickest and most direct avenue of entry. This is due to the respiratory system’s direct relationship with the circulatory system and the constant need to oxygenate tissue cells to sustain life.
There are three basic classifications of respiratory hazards:
NIOSH issues recommendations for respirator use. Industrial type approvals are in accordance to the NIOSH federal respiratory regulations 42 CFR Part 84. Selecting respirators requires knowing what level of respiratory protection employees need, as well as which size respirator is right for any face and facial contours.
Respiratory protective devices vary in design, application and protective capability. Thus, the user must assess the inhalation hazard and understand the specific use limitations of available equipment to assist in proper selection.
Respirators fall under two classifications: air-purifying and air-supplied.
If your hazard calculation, as defined in 1910.134, shows that exposure concentrations exceed recommended limits and engineering/administrative controls do not reduce exposure below the permissible limit, you must tailor your respiratory protection program to your specific conditions:
Air-Purifying Respirators (APRs) range from simple disposable cup masks to low-maintenance half-mask facepieces with cartridges and/or filters to the more complex PAPRs with full facepieces or hoods.
Supplied-Air Respirators (SARs) comprise air-line respirators, SCBA and combination (supplied-air) respirators.
Employers are required to provide employees using SARs with breathing gases of high purity and ensure that compressed air, compressed oxygen, liquid air and liquid oxygen used for respiration is in accordance with the specifications of OSHA Standard 1910.134(i). Whether your inspection takes you inside a rail car to examine coatings or through a paint shop, make sure you’re wearing the appropriate respiratory protection.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.
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