Industrial workers can be exposed to environmental contaminants such as harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, and vapors while performing their required tasks each day. These hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment, diseases, or death. To protect workers, regulating agencies such a Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) requires employers to protect their workers against the adverse effects of these hazards.
The primary objective shall be to prevent atmospheric contamination in the workplace. This shall be accomplished as far as feasible by accepted engineering control measures such as enclosure or confinement of the operation, general and local ventilation, and substitution of less toxic materials. However, when engineering controls are not adequate or feasible employers shall require workers to use respirators. Respirators used can range from simple disposable dust masks to more complex supplied air respirators. Where respirators are required to protect worker health, specific procedures are necessary to ensure the equipment’s effectiveness.
OSHA requires employers to establish and maintain an effective respiratory protection program when employees must wear respirators to protect against workplace hazards. The respiratory protection program may include but not limited to program administration procedures, worksite-specific procedures, respirator selection, employee training, fit testing, medical evaluation, and respirator use, cleaning, maintenance, and repair.
If engineering controls are not feasible, employers must provide respirators and employees must wear them when necessary to protect their health. The employee’s equipment must be properly selected, used, and maintained for a particular work environment and contaminant. In addition, employers must train employees in all aspects of the respiratory protection program.
Different hazards require different respirators, and employees are responsible for wearing the appropriate respirator and complying with the respiratory protection program.