For those in charge of implementing or maintaining a Respirator Protection Program in an industrial setting, you are likely familiar with the complexities and challenges that come along with such a program. From determining which type of respirator is best-suited to protect your workers from inhalation hazards, selecting appropriate fit testing protocols, establishing effective respiratory protection training strategies, and developing a written respiratory protection program, to staying compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – it can be overwhelming.
Building a comprehensive Respirator Protection Program doesn’t have to be difficult or burdensome. However, it is time-consuming, and many employers struggle to create and maintain a compliant program. OSHA 1910.134 requires all employers to establish a respiratory protection program when employees are required to wear respirators.
Here’s an insider’s look at the necessary components of building an effective respiratory protection program in your industrial organization. First, let’s review the two key steps in program creation: the exposure assessment and selecting respirators.
Step One: Industrial Hygiene Exposure Assessment
An industrial hygiene exposure assessment is the first and most important step in determining employee exposure to harmful contaminants such as chemical vapors, dust, fumes, and particulates. Conducting thorough assessments in accordance with OSHA guidelines and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) will identify areas where mitigation controls can be implemented to protect workers, including a Respiratory Protection Program to help prevent short-term and long-term negative health impacts on your workforce.
What an Assessment Determines
Exposure assessments involve characterizing and monitoring the workplace environment, collecting data, and analyzing potential risks relative to occupational exposure limits. This assessment helps ensure a Respiratory Protection Program is created and administered correctly. If the exposure assessment is not performed or performed incorrectly, the Respirator Protection Program is highly likely to be configured incorrectly.
Exposure assessments are an essential tool for safeguarding the well-being of workers across a range of industries and factors, workplace processes, agents of concern, work shifts, duration of exposure, historical injury data, similar exposure groups, and occupational exposure limits, among a large list of other variables. A correctly performed exposure assessment is necessary to comply with OSHA respiratory protection standards.
Step Two: Selecting Respirators
Once a detailed exposure assessment is performed, a number of factors must be considered for proper selection of a respirator. A professional Industrial Hygienist can perform calculations to determine the appropriate respirator type, including:
- disposable respirator
- half mask respirator
- full face respirator
- powered air-purifying respirator
- or supplied air respirator
Additionally, an industrial hygienist can help select any necessary cartridges and produce a recommended cartridge changeout schedule.
With the vast array of respirator options available in the market, the employer is responsible for selecting the correct respirator for the hazards present based on data gathered with the exposure assessment.
Factors that Influence Respirator Types
Factors such as the type and concentration of airborne hazards and the duration and frequency of exposure must be carefully considered when making this choice. When it comes to choosing a respirator, there are a variety of types to consider. Each type features a unique set of characteristics tailored for specific job functions and exposures.
Disposable respirators, such as N95 and P100 masks, are commonly used in healthcare settings for protection against airborne particles and droplets but also have their place in industrial operations. Half-face respirators and full-face respirators are frequently employed for tasks requiring increased protection against gases, vapors, and particulates. Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) rely on battery-operated systems to move air and filter contaminants, while Supplied-Air Respirators (SARs) use compressed air to supply fresh air to the user and are used in instances with highly hazardous conditions. It is crucial to identify the correct respirator type and filters to ensure the user’s safety and well-being in hazardous work environments.
What to Know About Employer Responsibilities
For employees required to use respirators, annual employee training must be provided, including proper use, selection, care for, and limitations of respirators. In addition, before a respirator can be used, employees must undergo a medical evaluation to ensure they are medically approved to wear a respirator.
Once medical clearances are performed, a mask fit test for tight-fitting facepiece respirators must be performed; this is to ensure the seal of the mask to the employee’s face does not allow the passage of hazardous airborne chemicals or particulates into their airway. Fit testing can be performed in several different ways; both qualitative and quantitative fit tests are approved by OSHA. By carefully selecting respirators and implementing a comprehensive Respiratory Protection Program, businesses can proactively protect their workers from potentially harmful airborne contaminants.
Creating a Respirator Protection Program
A written Respirator Protection Program is a crucial aspect of workplace safety that cannot be overlooked. OSHA 1910.134 outlines the requirements for employers to establish and maintain a written respirator program that covers all employees required to wear respirators. This written program must include information on respirator selection, medical evaluations, fit testing, training, and maintenance.
Compliance with this OSHA standard ensures that employees are effectively protected against respiratory hazards in the workplace. It also demonstrates a commitment to employee safety while positively impacting employee morale and productivity. Failing to comply can result in employee injury and costly OSHA citations. The Respirator Protection Program is one of the most employer-cited programs under OSHA year after year.
It is essential for employers to prioritize program compliance and regularly review and update their written program as needed to reflect any changes in workplace hazards or respirator needs.
Offering respiratory protection to employees safely and competently can be overwhelming for employers. Respiratory hazards can come from many sources, so it’s important for employers to understand OSHA standards and requirements. Most importantly, employers must assess the potential dangers and apply the appropriate solutions when providing the right kind of respiratory protection.
A comprehensive program, with employee training and protective equipment, is key in protecting workers against respiratory hazards and ensuring compliance with OSHA regulations. Organizations should use an Industrial Hygiene professional to design and maintain their respirator program and exposure assessment to ensure program accuracy and reduce organizational liability. A well-developed respiratory protection program is essential to keeping employees safe while on the job.
For assistance with creating a respirator protection program, or any industrial hygiene services, contact Summit today.