January 8, 1998
Respirator Facts and Highlights
A respirator is a safety device covering at least the nose and
mouth that protects the wearer against hazardous atmospheres
containing particulates/dusts (e.g., silica); vapors and gases
(e.g., carbon monoxide); atmospheres that are Immediately
Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH)(e.g., oxygen deficiency);
physical agents (e.g., radioactive particles); or biological agents
(e.g., mold spores).
About 5 million employees in 1.3 million establishments use
respirators at one time or another.
Improper use of respirators can result in overexposure to
hazardous contaminants, oxygen deficiency (suffocation)
or acute and chronic health effects.
OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health (NIOSH) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration
(MSHA) all regard effective respirator programs as essential
to workers' health.
Benefits of the Revised OSHA Respirator Standard
Compared to the existing standard, OSHA estimates the new
standard will reduce exposure of workers to toxic substances
by an average of approximately 27 percent, due to annual fit
testing and training requirements. Currently, 75 percent of
respirator-wearing employees work in establishments that
do not have those elements of an effective respirator program
OSHA estimates that more than 900 and possibly as many
as 1,625 deaths will be averted annually among respirator
wearers because of reduced exposure to toxic substances
that cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Many other
deaths related to acute overexposure will also be avoided
by proper respirator use.
In total, OSHA estimates that more than 4,000 injuries
and illnesses will likely be prevented annually.
Savings of up to $94 million annually in injury and
illness-related costs are anticipated. Costs will amount
to about $22 per employee per year, on average, and
the average annual expense per establishment is
estimated to be $87.
Impact on Small Businesses
A number of changes from the proposal have been made in
the final standard to reduce the impact on small businesses:
Other Important Aspects
- Supersedes existing standards that require semi-annual
fit testing and requires only annual fit testing;
- Use of portable quantitative fit testing devices is permitted;
- The employer can simply provide enough respirator choices
to obtain an acceptable fit among the employees (instead of being
required to have at least three different sizes of facepieces from
two different manufacturers);
- Disposable respirators can be reused if they will continue
to protect employees;
- Requirement for an annual review of the employee's
medical status is eliminated;
- A medical questionnaire rather than a hands-on physical
examination can be used to evaluate an employee's ability
to wear a respirator;
- Accepts previous training in lieu of full initial training; and
- The compliance deadlines have been extended to 150
and 180 days after the effective date.
- A revised table of Assigned Protection Factors (APFs),
which are numerical ratings given to different types of respirators
to tell users how much protection the respirator can provide,
will be added to the final rule at a later date.
- OSHA's original respiratory protection standard will
continue to apply to respirator use for occupational exposure
to tuberculosis until the TB standard (proposed standard
published in November 1997) is made final. With regard to
filter efficiency, any respirators certified by NIOSH under
42 CFR Part 84 and HEPA respirators certified under 30
CFR Part 11 will be acceptable to OSHA, in the interim,
for protection against occupational exposure to TB.
- The OSHA respirator standard and the NIOSH
certification standard work together. The OSHA standard
requires selection of NIOSH-certified respirators and use
as specified by the conditions of NIOSH-certification. The
OSHA standard is being published during the transition from
respirators certified under the old NIOSH 30 CFR Part 11
certification procedures to those certified under the new
NIOSH 42 Part 84 procedures. The OSHA standard
accommodates respirator selection under either NIOSH standard.
- The OSHA standard requires at least one standby
person when work is conducted in most Immediately
Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) atmospheres. This
was required by the previous OSHA standard.
- IDLH atmospheres resulting from interior structural
fires trigger additional provisions. At least two firefighters
must enter the burning building and remain in visual and
voice contact with each other at all times. In addition, at
least two standby persons are required when two persons
are engaged in interior structural firefighting in a burning
building (this protective practice is known
as "two-in / two-out").