Respiratory Protection

Trends in ... respiratory protection

‘Be serious about it’

OSHA estimates that 5 million workers in 1.3 million workplaces are required to wear respirators. These devices protect workers from “insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors and sprays,” the agency notes, adding that compliance with its Respiratory Protection Standard “could avert hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses annually.”

Here, industry insiders discuss what’s new regarding respiratory technology and how workers can best stay safe.


“With the continued advent of information technology and cloud services, the concept of the ‘connected worker’ is now a reality,” said Ralph Blessing, OSH professor for Orange Beach, AL-based Columbia Southern University. This concept, Blessing added, employs data-collecting sensors embedded in worksite equipment and on workers, allowing for real-time monitoring for early warning systems.

“The process monitors change in workplace activities and processes, leading to improved safety and business operations,” he said.

Eric Dietrich, product manager for respiratory protection, life sciences, for Cynthiana, KY-based Bullard, noted that respirator manufacturers are looking to incorporate gas-detection sensors directly into their Grade D breathable air systems.

“Gas sensor and other electronic sensor devices will likely be an integral part of respiratory protection in the near future,” Dietrich said, adding that “the same GPS sensor that’s in your smartphone could let a supervisor locate employees on large jobsites or find a missing respirator for inventory control purposes.”


One large problem, says Edward Larsen, territory sales manager for Royal Oak, MI-based RPB Safety LLC, is the misunderstanding of OSHA and respirator systems as a whole. “NIOSH tests and approves supplied air respirators from point of attachment, so modifying this in any way voids the NIOSH approval of the entire respirator,” Larsen said. To prevent this, he recommends more instruction during OSHA training.

Speaking about the ongoing opioid crisis, Blessing discussed the use of respiratory protection for first responders, medical staff and others who may be exposed to fentanyl. “Due to its low exposure levels, respiratory protection is critical – as even the smallest amount can be life-threatening,” he said.

Important to remember

When choosing respiratory protection, remember to take into consideration user comfort and acceptance, Dietrich said. “Many workers are not a good choice for tight-fitting respirators, and APRs can be physically taxing,” he said. “If the respirator doesn’t fit correctly or workers are prone to taking it off to catch their breath or wipe away sweat, the protection factor is severely impacted, especially with acute hazards.”

Ultimately, think worker well-being. “It’s important to remember that what we breathe today affects our future health,” Larsen said. “Be serious about it. Often, workers won’t experience the consequences of failing to use respirators until it’s too late.”

Coming next month …

  • Hearing protection
  • Wearables

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