Respiratory protection fundamentals: Understand the basics of establishing and maintaining a workplace respiratory protection program
OSHA requires respirators to be worn by an estimated 5 million workers in 1.3 million workplaces throughout the United States. Respirators protect workers against insufficient-oxygen environments or against harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors and sprays – hazards that may cause faintness or unconsciousness, lung impairment, cancer, other diseases or death. Compliance with the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard averts hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses annually. Safety, hygiene and emergency response professionals need products that enhance and improve their respiratory protection programs, while wearers want comfort and performance.
Respiratory protection products from Supply Line Direct include Air-Purifying Respirators such as 3M full-facepiece and half-facepiece respirators, organic vapor respirators and half-mask respirators, plus a selection of 3M Disposable Particulate Respirators.
Six steps in establishing a respiratory protection program (adapted from 3M Corp)
1. Exposure assessment
2. Written respiratory program
3. Respirator selection
4. Medical evaluation
5. Fit testing
6. Respirator training
Employers who decide to use respiratory protection to help lower worker exposures to hazardous airborne contaminants must follow all requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134. The following information is intended to highlight the major steps involved in setting up a respiratory protection program and to identify additional resources. Employers considering the use of respirators, and designated respiratory protection program administrators, should carefully read and fully understand the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard prior to issuing respiratory protection to employees.
1. Exposure assessment
OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard 1910.134(d) states: "The employer shall identify and evaluate the respiratory hazard(s) in the workplace; this evaluation shall include a reasonable estimate of employee exposures to respiratory hazard(s) and an identification of the contaminant's chemical state and physical form." American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) maintains a list of industrial hygienists who contract to do air monitoring (www.aiha.org). In addition, OSHA offers a free consultation program.
2. Written respiratory program
A written program is required for mandatory use of respiratory protection and recommended for voluntary use. OSHA 1910.134(c) states: ''In any workplace where respirators are necessary to protect the health of the employee or whenever respirators are required by the employer, the employer shall establish and implement a written respiratory protection program with worksite-specific procedures.''
3. Respirator selection
OSHA requires the employer to evaluate respiratory hazard(s) in the workplace (contaminant and concentration), identify relevant workplace and user factors, and base respirator selection on these factors. The respiratory hazard evaluation includes ""a reasonable estimate of employee exposures to respiratory hazard(s)"". The respirator type or class is then selected by comparing the employee's exposure to the occupational exposure limit and determining the minimum necessary respirator assigned protection factor. Where the employer cannot identify or reasonably estimate the employee exposure, OSHA requires the employer to consider the atmosphere as IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health).
4. Medical evaluations
Medical evaluation of the employee is required for mandatory use of all respirators or voluntary use of elastomeric facepieces, and recommended for voluntary use of filtering facepieces. OSHA 1910.134(e) states: ''The employer shall provide a medical evaluation to determine the employee's ability to use a respirator, before the employee is fit tested or required to use the respirator in the workplace.''
5. Fit testing
Fit testing is required for mandatory use of all tight-fitting facepieces and recommended for voluntary use. OSHA 1910.134(f) states: ''The employer shall ensure that an employee using a tight-fitting facepiece respirator is fit tested prior to initial use of the respirator, whenever a different respirator facepiece (size, style, model or make) is used, and at least annually thereafter.'' Employees issued powered air purifying respirators and supplied air respirators with loose-fitting facepieces, hoods or helmets are not subject to fit testing.
6. Respirator training
Training is required for mandatory use and recommended for voluntary use of respirators. OSHA 1910.134(k) states: ''This paragraph requires the employer to provide effective training to employees who are required to use respirators. The training must be comprehensive, understandable, and recur annually and more often if necessary.''
Respirator types and sub-types
Air-purifying respirators (APR) have filters, cartridges, or canisters that remove contaminants from the air by passing the ambient air through the air-purifying element before it reaches the user.
Three kinds of air-purifying respirators
1. Particulate respirators
Capture particles in the air, such as dusts, mists, and fumes
Do not protect against gases or vapors
Generally become more effective as particles accumulate on the filters and plug spaces between the fibers
Require filter replacement when the user finds it difficult to breathe
2. Combination respirators
Normally used in atmospheres that contain hazards of both particulates and gases
Have both particulate filters and gas/vapor filters
May be heavier than straight particulate respirators
3. Gas and vapor respirators
Normally used when there are only hazardous gases and vapors in the air
Use chemical filters (called cartridges or canisters) to remove dangerous gases or vapors
Do not protect against airborne particles
Made to protect against specific gases or vapors
Provide protection only as long as the filter's absorbing capacity is not depleted
Atmosphere-supplying respirators supply clean air directly to the user from a source other than the air surrounding the user. Employers are required to provide employees using atmosphere-supplying respirators (supplied air and self contained breathing apparatus) with breathing gases of high purity and ensure that compressed air, compressed oxygen, liquid air, and liquid oxygen used for respiration are in accordance with the specifications of OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.134(i).
Three kinds of atmosphere-supplying respirators
1. Supplied-air respirators (SARs)
Use a hose to deliver clean, safe air from a stationary source of compressed air
Provide clean air for long periods of time and are lightweight for the user
Limit user mobility and may fail due to hose damage
Also are called airline respirators
Normally are used when there are extended work periods required in atmospheres that are not immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH)
2. Combination respirators
Have an auxiliary self-contained air supply that can be used if the primary supply fails
Have a self-contained portion that can be small since it only needs to supply enough air for escape
Can be used for entry into confined spaces
Normally are used when there are extended work periods required in atmospheres that are or may be immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH)
3. Self-contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)
Consist of a wearable, clean-air supply pack
Do not restrict movement with a hose connection
In the closed-circuit type can provide air up to 4 hours
In the open-circuit type only provide air for 30 - 60 minutes
Normally are used when there is a short-time need to enter and escape from atmospheres that are or may be immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH)
NIOSH particulate filter standard ratings
N95 – Non-oil-resistant, filters at least 95% of airborne particles
N99 – Non-oil-resistant, filters at least 99% of airborne particles
N100 – Non-oil-resistant, filters at least 99.97% of airborne particles
R95 – Oil-resistant, filters at least 95% of airborne particles
R99 – Oil-resistant, filters at least 99% of airborne particles
R100 – Oil-resistant, filters at least 99.97% of airborne particles
P95 – Oil-proof, filters at least 95% of airborne particles
P99 – Oil-proof, filters at least 99% of airborne particles
P100 – Oil-proof, filters at least 99.97% of airborne particles
Donning and doffing respirators
Product-specific donning instructions for the majority of NIOSH-certified filtering facepiece respirators (N95, N99, N100, R95, P95, P99 and P100) are available on the NIOSH-Approved Filtering Particulate Filtering Facepiece Respirators page.
The manufacturer's instructions for the specific brand and model respirator you are using should always be followed. However, if those instructions are not available, the poster How to Properly Put On and Take Off a Disposable Respirator, provides general guidance.
Glossary of selected respirator terms
Selection, use and care of proper respiratory protection equipment involves learning and understanding a body of specialized concepts and terms. Here are some of the most important:
Assigned protection factor (APF) – The workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when the employer implements a continuing, effective respiratory protection program as specified by this section. The respirator selected must have an assigned protection factor adequate for the particular workplace exposure. Divide the air contaminant concentration by the occupational exposure limit (OEL) to obtain a hazard ratio. Then select a respirator with an assigned protection factor greater than or equal to that hazard ratio.
Canister or cartridge – A container with a filter, sorbent, or catalyst, or combination of these items, that removes specific contaminants from the air passed through the container.
Demand respirator – An atmosphere-supplying respirator that admits breathing air to the facepiece only when a negative pressure is created inside the facepiece by inhalation.
Emergency situation – Any occurrence such as, but not limited to, equipment failure, rupture of containers, or failure of control equipment that may or does result in an uncontrolled significant release of an airborne contaminant.
Employee exposure – Exposure to a concentration of an airborne contaminant that would occur if the employee were not using respiratory protection.
End-of-service-life indicator (ESLI) – A system that warns the respirator user of the approach of the end of adequate respiratory protection, for example, that the sorbent is approaching saturation or is no longer effective.
Escape-only respirator – Respirator intended to be used only for emergency exit.
Filter or air purifying element means a component used in respirators to remove solid or liquid aerosols from the inspired air.
Filtering facepiece (dust mask) – A negative-pressure particulate respirator with a filter as an integral part of the facepiece or with the entire facepiece composed of the filtering medium.
Fit factor – A quantitative estimate of the fit of a particular respirator to a specific individual and typically estimates the ratio of the concentration of a substance in ambient air to its concentration inside the respirator when worn.
Fit test – The use of a protocol to qualitatively or quantitatively evaluate the fit of a respirator on an individual. See also Qualitative fit test (QLFT) and Quantitative fit test (QNFT).
Helmet – A rigid respiratory inlet covering that also provides head protection against impact and penetration.
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter – A filter that is at least 99.97% efficient in removing monodispersed particles of 0.3 micrometers in diameter. The equivalent NIOSH 42 CFR 84 particulate filters are the N100, R100, and P100 filters.
Hood – A respiratory inlet covering that completely covers the head and neck and may also cover portions of the shoulders and torso.
Immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) – An atmosphere that poses an immediate threat to life, would cause irreversible adverse health effects, or would impair an individual's ability to escape from a dangerous atmosphere.
Loose-fitting facepiece – Respiratory inlet covering that is designed to form a partial seal with the face.
Maximum use concentration (MUC) – The maximum atmospheric concentration of a hazardous substance from which an employee can be expected to be protected when wearing a respirator, and is determined by the assigned protection factor of the respirator or class of respirators and the exposure limit of the hazardous substance. The MUC can be determined mathematically by multiplying the assigned protection factor specified for a respirator by the required OSHA permissible exposure limit, short-term exposure limit, or ceiling limit. When no OSHA exposure limit is available for a hazardous substance, an employer must determine an MUC on the basis of relevant available information and informed professional judgment.
Negative-pressure respirator (tight fitting) – A respirator in which the air pressure inside the facepiece is negative during inhalation with respect to the ambient air pressure outside the respirator.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (or NIOSH) – The United States federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
OSHA Personal Protective Equipment Standard Number 1910.134, Respiratory Protection, applies to general industry, shipyards, marine terminals, longshoring and construction, as part of the effort to control occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors. When such contaminants cannot be fully prevented, or while a prevention program is being instituted, appropriate respirators shall be used and provided to each employee as necessary.
Oxygen-deficient atmosphere – An atmosphere with an oxygen content below 19.5% by volume.
Positive-pressure respirator – A respirator in which the pressure inside the respiratory inlet covering exceeds the ambient air pressure outside the respirator.
Powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) – An air-purifying respirator that uses a blower to force the ambient air through air-purifying elements to the inlet covering.
Pressure-demand respirator – A positive-pressure atmosphere-supplying respirator that admits breathing air to the facepiece when the positive pressure is reduced inside the facepiece by inhalation.
Qualitative fit test (QLFT) – A pass/fail fit test to assess the adequacy of respirator fit that relies on the individual's response to the test agent.
Quantitative fit test (QNFT) – An assessment of the adequacy of respirator fit by numerically measuring the amount of leakage into the respirator.
Respiratory inlet covering – The portion of a respirator that forms the protective barrier between the user's respiratory tract and an air-purifying device or breathing air source, or both. It may be a facepiece, helmet, hood, suit, or a mouthpiece respirator with nose clamp.
Service life – The period of time that a respirator, filter or sorbent, or other respiratory equipment provides adequate protection to the wearer.
Tight-fitting facepiece means a respiratory inlet covering that forms a complete seal with the face.
User seal check – An action conducted by the respirator user to determine if the respirator is properly seated to the face.
Links to sites with useful respirator information and resources
Sample respiratory protection program including checklists
OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134
3M Summary of OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard
3M administrative respiratory protection program
3M product specific maintenance and training videos
3M online respirator selection software and respirator selection guide
3M regulations update: assigned protection factors
Reusable respirator cleaning instructions
Respiratory protection training program attendance roster
OSHA respirator medical evaluation questionnaire (Appendix C - English)
OSHA respirator medical evaluation questionnaire (Appendix C - Spanish)
3M online and mail-in respirator medical evaluation (For users of all brands and types of respirators. Available in English or Spanish.)
Fit testing training video - English
Fit testing training video - Spanish
3M product specific respirator fitting instructions
3M qualitative fit test kits and fit test instructions
3M FT-10 (sweet) fit test kit
3M FT-30 (Bitter) fit test kit
Respirator fit test form
Fit test wallet cards
Establishing a cartridge change schedule
Cartridge change FAQs
Appendix D to 29 CFR 1910.134 (Mandatory) Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under the Standard (English)
Appendix D to 29 CFR 1910.134 (Mandatory) Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under the Standard (Spanish)
3M fit test policy
3M technical data bulletins
Regulations and standards
Sample written respiratory protection program.pdf