Breathe Easy: Developing a respirator program

Breathe Easy Developing a respirator program By Colleen Malloy Even breathing can be dangerous when you're working in the hangar. Your health depends on a properly chosen and maintained respirator to filter out potentially deadly gases...

Breathe Easy

By Colleen Malloy

Even breathing can be dangerous when you're working in the hangar. Your health depends on a properly chosen and maintained respirator to filter out potentially deadly gases, particles, and fumes. By developing a respirator program in your workplace you can be sure that you will continue to breathe easy.

OSHA regulatory background

Under OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134, employers are required to provide respirators when engineering controls such as ventilation or enclosures are unable to protect employees from airborne contaminants. In addition, employers must develop a written respirator program and update it on a periodic basis to reflect the changing workplace. An administrator must oversee the respirator program to ensure that all employees are properly trained on respirator use and maintenance. Employers are required to provide respirators, related training, and medical examinations at no cost to the employee. OSHA offers a Small Entity Compliance Guide that outlines a sample program, which is available through its web site at

Getting started

Development and maintenance of a respirator program includes the following basic steps:

  1. Identification of respiratory hazards
  2. Medical evaluation
  3. Fit testing
  4. Respirator selection
  5. Training
  6. Maintenance
  7. Program evaluation and record keeping

Respiratory hazards

Before you can select a respirator it is important to properly identify and evaluate respiratory hazards.

Respiratory hazards come in many different forms including dusts, fibers, fumes, mists, gases, vapors, and biological hazards. By properly identifying the hazards present in your workplace you can choose the respirator that best suits your needs. It is important to note that each task you perform may subject you to different sets of respiratory hazards. Be sure to take all exposure to respiratory hazards into consideration when planning a respirator program, including emergency situations.

Medical evaluation

Not everyone is well suited for respirator use; people with a history of medical problems may find it difficult to use a respirator. It is important that a physician or other qualified medical expert perform a medical evaluation based on the OSHA Respiratory Medical Evaluation Questionnaire found in Appendix C of the Respiratory Protection Standard. Factors OSHA recommends a medical professional take into consideration include:

  • The type and weight of the respirator to be used by the employee
  • The duration and frequency of respirator use (including use for rescue and escape)
  • The expected physical work effort
  • Additional protective clothing and equipment to be worn
  • Temperature and humidity extremes that may be encountered
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