An estimated 5 million workers in the U.S. are required to wear respiratory protection in the workplace. 5 Million workers! Unfortunately, many either aren’t wearing their respirators or they are wearing the wrong ones altogether. If your facility relies on personal protective equipment to prevent occupational diseases caused by breathing contaminated air, then you may want to review OSHA 1910.134 and make sure you have the right program in place.
Make Sure Your Workers are Protected:
Employers need to provide respiratory protection when workers are exposed to harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, sprays or vapors. Of course, engineering controls should first be in place through proper ventilation, use of less toxic materials or actually confining contaminants to a particular area. Once those measures are taken, it’s time to select respirators for your team.
Types of Respiratory Protection EQuipment:
APR & PAPR: Air purifying respirators (APR) can range from a simple dust mask respirator to powered full facepiece respirators (PAPR). Particulate filters and chemical cartridges need to be carefully chosen based on the application and OSHA and NIOSH guidelines. PAPR’s help to reduce breathing resistance and lessen worker fatigue and stress by providing ambient air (not breathable air so don’t use in oxygen depleted areas!)
Typically used in:
- Asbestos Abatement
- Hazmat Cleanup
- Spray Painting
- Pulp Paper
- Chemical, oil or gas
- Power plants
Supplied Air: These have an air supply can either be a low pressure ambient air that draws in clean air or a breathable air supply that is filtered and monitored.
SCBA’s: Self-contained breathing apparatus allows the worker to wear the breathing air in a cylinder on their back allowing movement, but the cylinders need to be changes out every 30-60 minutes and can be heavy.
Escape Respirators:These provide a bottle of breathing air that the worker can use to escape a hazardous situation, but it is only a limited supply of breathable air, from 5-10 minutes maximum.
Gas Masks: These air purifying respirators filter out hazards such as biological and chemical contaminants to provide wear with breathable air in the event of emergency.
What your workers saying about their respiratory protection:
- It’s uncomfortable!
- It’s too hot!
- It’s too heavy!
- My safety glasses don’t fit correctly when I wear my mask!
- They don’t work! (they still end up with residue on their faces or in their nose)
- I didn’t know I needed to wear a respirator!
When a worker refuses to wear a respirator, it’s not done out of spite. Sometimes there may be religious reasons or they may not be aware of the dangers involved if they don’t wear protection. Most times, however, workers may have valid concerns about the fit and comfort level of their respirators. So, instead of fighting a losing battle, find out why they aren’t wearing their masks and select the right respirators for the job. A common complaint from safety mnagers is that they don’t want to spend more money on PPE than they have to. If workers aren’t wearing what you are spending money on, that seems like a bigger waste!
Respiratory Basics: Fit Tests
Make sure you test the effectiveness of your workers’ respirator at least every 12 months. Often employers also fail to retest when a worker has had significant weight loss/gain, major dental work, changes in facial hair/scarring or when replacing the respirator and seals.
Safety managers must evaluate which jobs require respirators and develop a program that provides worker with effective protection. In a survey done by Kimberly-Clark Professional, 69% of workers reported not even knowing that they needed to wear PPE. Worker safety falls directly on the the safety manager or employer.
Important Note for Safety Managers:
OSHA released a Final Rule that aims to protect workers from exposure to crystalline silica. The goal is to reduce lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in the 2.3 million workers that are exposed to the dangerous substance.From landscaping, glass manufacturing, foundries to dental labs and more; workers are exposed to silica dust.
Among the many provisions include requirements that employers use engineering controls, medical exams, provide respirators and develop a written exposure control plan.
The new Final Rule is the result of a decades-long debate between California and OSHA. OSHA has now updated the permissible exposure limit to 50 micrograms (all forms of silica) in the air per cubic meter, from federal levels of 250 micrograms; preventing an estimated 900 new cases of silicosis every year! This is much different than Cal/OSHA's PELs of 100 (quartz), 50 (cristobalite) and 50 (tridymite). And using a wet vacuum system isn't necessarily considered compliance any longer.
This is going to be tricky! So make sure you are in compliance with the new regulation and monitor exposure regularly!
Employers are likely to see an increase in worker compliance by implementing a clear respiratory program with proper training and monitoring, fit tests and by supplying comfortable, stylish equipment. Save the company money by reducing violations, workers’ comp and sick time simply by providing equipment that workers will actually wear. It’s a no brainer!