PPE Focus of the Month: Respirators – Responsibilities Before Donning the Mask
Respirators can provide significant protection to employees exposed to respiratory hazards like fumes and vapors, but they can also create additional hazards if they are used incorrectly. Therefore, an employee must be medically cleared to wear a respirator, complete a respirator fit test and the employer must develop a respiratory protection program.
First, the work must be evaluated to determine if respirators are necessary to protect employees’ health.
Construction employers should note that under the new Respirable Crystalline Silica standard, some tasks in Table 1 do require respirators with an assigned protection factor (APF) of 10, which is a filtering face-piece respirator. There is a common misconception that a filtering facepiece respirator, otherwise known as a dust mask, is not a respirator. Let’s be clear on this – a dust mask IS a respirator according to OSHA. So even if you only perform tasks that require a filtering facepiece respirator, respirators are now necessary to protect the health of your employees, and you need a respiratory protection program.
Even when a respirator is not required to protect employee health, some employers still require their use because of best practices or other concerns. Because respirator use is required, a respiratory protection program is necessary.
Alternately, some employers allow for the voluntary use of filtering facepiece respirators to protect employees against nuisance dust. If this is the case, and voluntary use is limited to filtering facepiece respirators only, a respiratory protection program is not required. However, employees must be provided with the information contained in Appendix D to Sec. 1910.134 (Mandatory) Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under the Standard before wearing the respirator, and at least annually thereafter.
If respirators will be required due to exposures or due to company policy, respirators must be selected that protect against the specific hazards to which employees are exposed.
Employees who will wear respirators will need a medical exam at no charge to them, and approval from a physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP) to wear a respirator. Evaluations are based on a medical questionnaire or an initial medical examination that obtains the same information.
Those who will wear tight-fitting respirators, such as half-mask or full-facepiece respirators, must undergo fit testing to ensure their respirators fit correctly prior to wearing the respirator on the job, and at least annually thereafter.
Employees must be trained on the use and limitations of the selected respirators, as well as how to inspect, store, and clean the respirator. They must be retrained annually, or when the workplace hazards change, the required type of respirator changes, the employee demonstrates inadequacies in their use of the respirator, or any other situation where retraining is deemed necessary.