Respiratory protection program responsibilities
As an employer, what are my responsibilities to protect my workers from respiratory hazards? What responsibilities do my employees have?
Responding is Alicia Denlinger, QSSP, safety sales development specialist, Fastenal, Winona, MN.
Think of your responsibility as an employer in two parts. The first is to establish a written respiratory protection program that highlights worksite-specific procedures, as well as proper use and maintenance of the respiratory equipment. The second is to provide medically fit employees with the appropriate respiratory equipment to protect their health.
What are the requirements of a written program?
A written respiratory protection program must specify the type and physical form of respiratory hazards in your workplace through air quality sampling by a certified industrial hygienist. Personal protective equipment is always the last line of defense, and employers must first work to eliminate hazards whenever possible.
Your written plan should clearly define the procedures necessary to select respirators, proper use for both mandatory and voluntary users, and proper maintenance and storage.
Once you have your written plan, make sure to designate a program administrator. Best practice is to specify who in the organization is responsible for administering, monitoring and evaluating the program.
Another best practice is to address the “What if?” scenarios. For example, what can go wrong and how should workers respond in the event of an emergency?
Finally, the program needs to be reviewed periodically to ensure relevant changes with all respiratory hazards are reflected in the program.
Now it’s time to select your respiratory protection.
Remember those hazards you identified? Your respirators must be chosen to protect against them. But one size/type doesn’t fit all. Select a variety of models and styles to try. This allows employees to find the respirator that fits them best. Make sure the respirators you select are NIOSH-certified and aligned with OSHA assigned protection factors and maximum use concentrations.
Before employees can don respirators and get to work, three more tasks must be accomplished. The first is medical testing. Because respirators can make breathing more difficult and may place additional stress on the bodies of workers assigned to wear them, employees must have an OSHA-approved medical evaluation.
Once approved, each employee must be properly fit-tested. Fit tests must be completed annually to ensure the respirator still fits the worker, as factors such as weight gain or loss, dental work, and cosmetic surgery will affect the seal.
Last, but not least, employee training on proper use is integral to a successful respiratory protection program. Make sure each employee knows not only how to use the respirator correctly, but how to properly maintain it.
Employees also have responsibilities, but they can only be expected to follow them if they’re included in your written program.
For example, employees must:
- Comply with department or site-specific policies on respirator use.
- Comply with medical evaluations and fit-testing before being issued a respirator.
- Know how to inspect their respirators before each use.
- Properly maintain, store and clean/sanitize their respirator after each use.
- Report equipment concerns immediately.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.