Respirator Use in the Workplace

Date: February 22, 2022

Jessica Slattery, Risk Control Consultant

Protecting Employees Against Hazards

Workers across the United States are required to wear a respirator in the workplace. A respirator protects employees from inhaling dangerous substances such as harmful dust, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors.

Selecting the Correct Respirator

Respirator selection requires an assessment of the workplace operations, environments, or processes that may cause a respiratory hazard. Respirators must be certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Medical Evaluation

Respirators put a physical burden on the human body, and a medical evaluation is required before employee use. Certain employees may have trouble breathing with a respirator. Examples include elderly workers or workers with conditions such as lung diseases like asthma or emphysema. Special masks are available for employees who wear glasses. Employees with claustrophobia may not be able to wear a full facepiece or hooded respirator.

Fit Testing

A fit test is also required when an employee uses a different facepiece size, model, or make when an employee's physical condition changes that could affect the fit, or at least annually. NIOSH reports that ten percent of employees failed a fit test after only one year of using the same make, model, and size respirator.

Care and Maintenance

Employers must provide employees with a respirator that is clean, sanitary, and in good working condition. For proper care and maintenance:

  • Clean respirators as often as possible to keep them sanitized.
  • Inspect the respirator before and after each use and during cleaning.
  • Inspect equipment designated for emergency use at least monthly and before and after each use.
  • Replace all parts that are cracked, torn, broken, missing, or worn.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding cleaning the disinfecting procedures.  

Recommended Practices

When using a respirator in the workplace, use these recommended practices.

  • Respirators must be NIOSH certified.
  • Consider the atmosphere Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) if you cannot identify or reasonably estimate the employee exposure.
  • Keep respirators in a cool, dry, and specially designated cabinet.
  • Store cleaned respirators separate from cartridges.
  • Clean respirators after each use.
  • Dispose of cartridges and pre-filters after they are used up and cannot be cleaned.

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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