Number 5 on our  “Hit Parade” countdown of OSHA’s Top Ten violations for 2010 is Standard 29 CFR 1910.134,  Respiratory Protection, General Industry.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, respirators protect the user in two basic ways. The first is by the removal of contaminants from the air. Respirators of this type include particulate respirators, which filter out airborne particles; and “gas masks” which filter out chemicals and gases. Other respirators protect by supplying clean respirable air from another source. Respirators that fall into this category include airline respirators, which use compressed air from a remote source; and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), which include their own air supply.  Respirators should only be used when engineering control systems are not feasible. Engineering control systems, such as adequate ventilation or scrubbing of contaminants are the preferred control methods for reducing worker exposures. 

If you work where there is dust, heat, humidity, or mist around you, respirators are needed.  Respiratory protection is regulated by OSHA, which determines which type of respiratory protection is appropriate for each kind of hazard.  NIOSH regulates the manufacture and testing of face masks/respirators, labels them for the appropriate type of use, and OSHA is responsible for their use.  Employers are in charge of establishing and implementing a written respiratory protection program with worksite-specific procedures and elements for required respirator use.  The provisions of the program include selecting the correct protection, medical evaluation, fit testing, training, use and care of respirators.  Persons with mustaches or beards may not be able to get a secure fit.  OSHA requires fit-testing, to be sure there are no leaks.  Respirators Fit-testing kits must be used to ensure their compliance to safety requirements. 

N95 filtering respirators, “air purifying respirators” cover the nose and mouth.  A respirator classified as N95 means that 95% of most penetrating particulates will be filtered out. This type of respirator protects the wearer against breathing in small particles that contain viruses, such as in a healthcare setting.  For other occupational exposures, the respirators filter out dust, mist, heat and vapors that can be harmful to your health.  To be fully effective, N95 respirators must fit closely to form a light seal over the mouth and nose.   Manufacturers make several different sizes of respirators to accommodate smaller faces.  The use of powered air-purifying respirators may be chosen as a suitable type in some cases. 

Workers must have received comprehensive and understandable training at least annually, and more often if necessary.  This training should include, at a minimum:

  • Limitations and capabilities of the respirator;
  • Effective use in emergencies;
  • Why it is necessary and how improper fit, use and maintenance can compromise its protective effect;
  • Recognition of medical signs and symptoms that may limit or prevent effective use;
  • How to inspect, put on and remove, use and check the seals;
  • Maintenance and storage.

Listed among the top five violations by companies in the United States is an indicator that employees are being exposed to hazards that can be very harmful to their health.  We hope by this time next year,  most of the serious violations will be corrected, and that respiratory protection will be taken off the list.  We’ll all breathe easier when this happens, especially our workers!


Sources: OSHA, CDC