Respiratory hazards in the workplace can have serious consequences for employees, leading to both short and long-term health issues. It is crucial for employers to prioritize the safety and health of their workers by implementing effective respiratory protection programs. One important aspect of these programs is proper respirator training.
In this article, we will explore the different types of respiratory hazards in the workplace, the different classes of respirators, and the factors to consider when selecting a respirator.
We will also discuss the importance of conducting respiratory training for both employees and supervisors/managers, as well as the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard. By understanding these key aspects of respiratory protection, employers can create a safe and healthy workplace for their employees.
Respiratory Hazards in the Workplace
Respiratory hazards are among the most significant hazards that employees face in many workplaces. These hazards can cause serious health problems, including lung damage, chronic illnesses, and even death. Respiratory hazards can come from a variety of sources in the workplace, such as dust, fumes, gases, vapors, and biological agents.
The most common respiratory hazards in the workplace include airborne particles, gases, vapors, and biological agents. Airborne particles can be produced from construction activities, such as cutting, drilling, or grinding of materials. Gases and vapors can come from solvents, cleaning agents, and other chemicals used in the workplace. Biological agents, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, can be present in healthcare facilities, laboratories, and other similar settings.
In addition to the hazards mentioned above, some respiratory hazards are considered "Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health" (IDLH) and require special attention. IDLH substances are those that pose an immediate threat to the health and life of workers, even when they are exposed to them for a short time. Some examples of IDLH substances include chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, and carbon monoxide.
It is essential to identify respiratory hazards in the workplace and take the necessary measures to protect employees from exposure to these hazards. Employers must conduct a hazard assessment to determine the types of respiratory hazards present in the workplace and the level of exposure that employees face. Once identified, employers must implement appropriate engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment, including respirators, to minimize employee exposure.
The Different Classes of Respirators
A. Air-Purifying Respirators (APRs)
Air-purifying respirators (APRs) are a type of respirator that work by filtering contaminants out of the air. These respirators use filters or cartridges to remove contaminants, such as dust, fumes, and vapors, from the air before it is breathed in. The effectiveness of an APR depends on the type of filter or cartridge used, as well as the fit and seal of the respirator.
There are several different types of air-purifying respirators, including:
- N95 Respirators: N95 respirators are a type of filter respirator that can filter out at least 95% of airborne particles. They are commonly used in healthcare settings to protect against airborne diseases, such as COVID-19.
- Half-face Respirators: Half-face respirators cover the mouth and nose and have filters on each side. They are commonly used in construction and manufacturing settings to protect against dust and other airborne particles.
- Full-face Respirators: Full-face respirators cover the entire face and have a clear visor that provides eye protection. They are commonly used in environments where there is a risk of exposure to chemicals or gases that can irritate or damage the eyes.
- Powered Air-purifying Respirators (PAPRs): PAPRs are a type of respirator that use a battery-powered blower to force air through a filter, which removes contaminants. They provide a higher level of protection than other types of APRs and are commonly used in healthcare settings.
It is important to note that air-purifying respirators have limitations and may not provide adequate protection in certain situations. For example, they may not be effective against gases and vapors that do not have a strong odor, or in oxygen-deficient environments.
Air-purifying respirators use different types of filters or cartridges to remove contaminants from the air. The type of filter or cartridge used depends on the type of contaminant present. There are three classes of particulate filters that can be used with air-purifying respirators:
- N Series Filters: N series filters are not oil-resistant and are used to filter out non-oil-based particles, such as dust and pollen.
- R Series Filters: R series filters are oil-resistant but have a limited service life. They are used to filter out oil-based particles, as well as non-oil-based particles.
- P Series Filters: P series filters are oil-proof and have a longer service life. They are used to filter out oil-based particles, as well as non-oil-based particles.
B. Supplied-Air Respirators (SARs)
Supplied-air respirators (SARs) are a type of respirator that provide clean air from an external source, such as a compressed air cylinder or an air compressor. They are commonly used in environments where the air is contaminated with hazardous substances, such as in painting or sandblasting operations.
There are two main types of supplied-air respirators:
- SCBAs: SCBAs are typically used in emergency situations where there is an immediate danger to life or health. They provide the wearer with a completely independent air supply, which is contained within the apparatus. SCBAs are often used in situations such as confined spaces, where the air supply may be limited, or where there is a risk of toxic or otherwise hazardous gases.
- Airline Respirators: Airline respirators are a type of supplied-air respirator that delivers compressed air from a stationary source through a hose to the wearer's mask or hood. This allows for a greater degree of mobility and flexibility compared to SCBAs, but also requires a reliable and clean air supply.
Things to Consider Before Choosing a Respirator
When selecting a respirator, it is important to consider several factors to ensure it provides adequate protection for the specific workplace hazard. Some of the factors that should be taken into account before choosing a respirator include:
- Nature and extent of the respiratory hazard: The type of respiratory hazard present in the workplace, as well as its concentration, will determine the level of respiratory protection required. For instance, a hazard that emits gases or vapors requires a different type of respirator than a hazard that produces airborne particles.
- Work environment and physical demands of the job: The work environment, including temperature, humidity, and physical demands, can affect the choice of respirator. For example, a worker who performs physically demanding tasks may need a respirator with a higher airflow rate to ensure adequate oxygen supply.
- User comfort and fit: The respirator should fit comfortably on the user's face to ensure maximum protection. Uncomfortable respirators may not be worn properly, leading to inadequate protection. Also, a good fit ensures that the respirator is sealed to the face to prevent air from leaking in or out.
- Maintenance and storage requirements: Respirators require regular maintenance to function properly. It is essential to consider the frequency of maintenance, including filter and cartridge replacements, and the necessary storage conditions.
- Availability and cost: The availability and cost of respirators can vary depending on the type and manufacturer. It is essential to consider the budget and the availability of specific respirator models before making a purchase
By considering these factors, employers can select the appropriate respirators for their workers, ensuring adequate respiratory protection and minimizing exposure to respiratory hazards in the workplace.
Selecting the Right Respirator
After considering the various factors outlined in the previous section, it is important to select the appropriate type of respirator. The type of respirator chosen should provide adequate protection against the specific respiratory hazard present in the workplace.
For air-purifying respirators (APRs), the type of filter or cartridge selected should match the hazard present. The type of APR selected should also be based on the level of respiratory protection required and the physical demands of the job. N95 respirators are suitable for low-level respiratory hazards, while half-face and full-face respirators offer higher levels of protection.
For supplied-air respirators (SARs), the type selected should be based on the specific respiratory hazard present, as well as the work environment and physical demands of the job. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) provide the highest level of respiratory protection but may be too bulky for certain work environments or physically demanding jobs. Airline respirators provide a continuous supply of clean air and are suitable for longer work periods, but may not be suitable for confined spaces.
It is also important to properly select and use accessories, such as filters and cartridges. The type of filter or cartridge selected should be appropriate for the specific respiratory hazard present, and should be replaced regularly to ensure continued effectiveness. It is also important to properly store and maintain respirators and accessories, and to conduct regular inspections to ensure that they are in good working condition.
Overall, selecting the right respirator is a crucial step in protecting workers from respiratory hazards in the workplace. Employers should prioritize the selection and use of appropriate respiratory protection equipment, and provide employees with the training and resources necessary to properly select, use, and maintain respirators and accessories.
Conducting Respirator Training for Employees
Respirator training is an important part of any respiratory protection program, as it ensures that employees know how to properly select, use, and maintain their respirators.
The following are the key steps involved in conducting respirator training for employees:
- Basic respiratory anatomy and physiology: Employees should be educated on the basic anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system, including the function of the lungs and how respiration works.
- Proper use, care, and maintenance of respirators: Employees should be taught how to properly use their respirators, including how to put them on and take them off, how to check for proper fit, and how to perform a user seal check. They should also be instructed on how to clean and maintain their respirators to ensure they function properly.
- Respirator fit testing: Fit testing is a critical component of a respiratory protection program, as it ensures that the respirator fits properly and provides adequate protection. Employees should be trained on the importance of fit testing and how it is conducted.
- Identification of respiratory hazards and how to use respirators in those situations: Employees should be educated on the respiratory hazards in their workplace, including the types of hazards and how to identify them. They should also be taught how to use their respirators in these situations to ensure they are protected.
- Emergency procedures and response: In the event of an emergency, employees should know how to respond while wearing their respirators. This includes knowing how to exit the building safely, how to communicate with others, and how to remove their respirators safely.
Special considerations should also be given to specific types of respirators, such as PAPRs and SARs. Employees should be trained on the proper use and care of these respirators, including how to use the battery or air supply, how to clean and maintain the respirator, and how to troubleshoot any problems that may arise.
Proper selection and use of accessories such as filters and cartridges is also an important part of respirator training. Employees should be taught how to properly select the right filter or cartridge for the job and how to replace them when necessary.
Training for Supervisors and Managers
Providing respiratory training to supervisors and managers is crucial in ensuring a safe and healthy work environment. While the training for both employees and supervisors/managers are similar; it is the latter that is responsible for overseeing the work of their employees and ensuring that they follow proper safety protocols, including the use of respiratory protection.
By providing them with adequate training, they can effectively identify respiratory hazards in the workplace and ensure that employees are using respirators properly. Supervisor and Manager respiratory training should be more extensive, covering a range of topics including identification of respiratory hazards, understanding respirator selection and use, proper fit testing, respirator maintenance and storage, and emergency procedures.
Several organizations in the USA offer respiratory protection training programs for supervisors and managers, including:
- OSHA - Respiratory Protection Standard - This training program is offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and covers the requirements of the Respiratory Protection Standard. It is designed for supervisors and managers who are responsible for respiratory protection programs in their workplaces.
- National Safety Council - Respiratory Protection - This training program is offered by the National Safety Council and covers the proper selection, use, and care of respirators. It is designed for supervisors and managers who are responsible for the safety of their employees.
- Compliance Solutions - Respiratory Protection - This training program is offered by Compliance Solutions and covers a wide range of topics including respirator types and selection, exposure assessment, leak testing, medical requirements, and emergencies.
The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard
The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard (1910.134) is a set of guidelines established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure that workers are protected from respiratory hazards in the workplace. The standard establishes requirements for respirator use, selection, and maintenance, as well as medical evaluations and fit testing.
One of the key requirements of the standard is that employers must provide training to employees who use respirators in the workplace. This training must be provided before an employee is required to use a respirator on the job and must be repeated at least annually.
Employers must also provide additional training whenever there are changes in the workplace that could affect the proper use of respirators, such as changes in work procedures, changes in the type of respiratory hazard, or changes in the type of respirator used.
The training must cover several key topics, including the following:
- The nature of the respiratory hazard and the specific respirator being used, including its limitations and capabilities.
- The proper use of respirators, including how to put on and take off the respirator, how to conduct a user seal check, and how to adjust the respirator for a proper fit.
- The proper maintenance, cleaning, and storage of respirators.
- The limitations of respirators, including their inability to provide complete protection against all respiratory hazards.
- The medical evaluation process that employees must undergo before they are allowed to use a respirator.
- The procedures for conducting fit testing, including the different types of fit tests and how often they should be conducted.
- The procedures for responding to emergencies involving respiratory hazards.
- Employers must keep records of respirator training, including the dates of training, the topics covered, and the names of the employees who received the training. These records must be kept for at least five years.
In conclusion, respiratory hazards in the workplace can pose serious health risks for employees, and it is essential for employers to take steps to protect their workers. One important aspect of this protection is providing adequate respiratory protection training to employees.
In light of the risks posed by respiratory hazards in the workplace, we urge employers to prioritize respiratory protection training and take steps to create a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.
By doing so, they can help to prevent respiratory-related illnesses and injuries and promote the overall well-being of their workforce.