OSHA Respiratory Standards Help to Protect Workers
Breathing toxic air can cause cancer, lung problems, and even death. Hundreds of deaths and thousands of lost sick days each year could be prevented if everyone followed the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standards.
There are many different types of respirators. They are all designed to protect workers from inhaling dangerous substances including particles, infectious materials, fumes, mists, gases, and sprays. OSHA has put together standards to regulate respirators and to help in choosing the right respirator for the job.
How does a respirator protect a worker?
Many jobs require the use of respirators – from a lawn care worker using a simple dust mask to keep out pollen to a firefighter carrying a self-contained breathing apparatus into the smoke and flames of a burning building.
There are three ways a respirator can work.
- Particulate respirators filter particles out of the air
- Air purifying respirators use cartridges or canisters to clean/purify the air
- Other source respirators supply clean air from another source
It’s essential to choose the right kind of respirator and filtering system for each job.
Choose from several different types of respirators.
Because there are so many respirators made for many types of jobs, it’s crucial that the right kind of respirator is used.
Particulate respirator or dust mask is the most common type of respirator. They are inexpensive, disposable, and found in many retail stores. The dust mask, including the popular N-95, only protects against dust particles such as construction dust and pollen or infectious particles in healthcare. They are not effective against gases or vapors.
Gas Mask or Chemical Cartridge Respirator purify the air by passing it through a replaceable canister or cartridge of special filtering materials. To work correctly, the mask must form a tight seal around the nose and mouth. Different gases or vapors require different types of canisters. So first the type of gas must be identified and then the appropriate canister (or cartridge) is installed in the mask. While one type of canister may work to filter several different kinds of gases, no one filter works in all situations.
Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus is the type of respirator used by firefighters. Very similar to SCUBA tanks, these systems require lugging heavy tanks filled with clean air under pressure. This system enables the firefighter to breathe clean air while surrounded by dangerous smoke, ashes, and chemical vapors.
Why Some People Can’t Use Respirators
Not everyone can use a respirator. It’s harder to breathe through a respirator so people with lung disease, some older adults, and others who have problems breathing may have difficulties with a respirator. Wearing a full facepiece or hooded respirator bothers some people with claustrophobia. People with vision problems may have trouble using a mask that has not been modified for glasses.
All workers need to be medically evaluated before they are issued a respirator.
Get more information about respiratory protection.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a web page that can link you to many sources for more information about respiratory safety.
NIOSH is “an agency under CDC that conducts research and provides recommendations specifically for worker health and safety”.
Learn More with our HAZWOPER 40 Hour Training Course
Our online HAZWOPER 40 Hour Plus GHS Hazardous Communication Training Course is designed just for workers participating in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency response removal who will be required to wear a respirator and are likely to be exposed to Hazardous Substances over PEL (Permissible Exposure Limits).
The course covers 40 hours of instruction required by 29 CFR 1910.120(e)(3), OSHA’s Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response training standard. When you successfully complete the course, you will be awarded a Certificate of Completion which is accepted by OSHA as documentation of training.