Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at

January 26, 1993

Mr. Patrick M. Sturgeon
Environmental Safety Supervisor
500 West Main Street
Post Office 1438
Louisville, Kentucky 40201-1438

Dear Mr. Sturgeon:

This is a response to your recent letters concerning respiratory protection to the Regional Offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

You are correct in your understanding that the focus of 29 CFR 1910.134 is to reduce employee exposure to air contaminants by means of engineering controls. When that is not possible, respiratory protection is to be used to reduce employee exposure. When respiratory protection is required, the requirements of OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, must be met.

Regarding your specific example, if you have demonstrated by sampling data that employee exposures to ethylene oxide and formaldehyde are consistently below the action level or below OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL), then no respiratory protection for routine use has to be provided for the employees.

In your second question, you ask about emergency responses to chemical spills, leaks, ...etc. The hospital can decide that the proper procedure, in the event of such emergencies, is to evacuate the area and call in the local Hazardous Materials Response Team which would, of course, have full respiratory protection to deal with the problem that caused the leak or spill.

With such a policy in place, it may be necessary only to have emergency escape respirators available if they are needed for the safe evacuation of the personnel in the area.

A determination would have to be made with respect to potential exposure of each employee in case of an emergency spill. Factors to be evaluated include: location, potential exposure, and the effectiveness of emergency escape respirators in reducing potential exposure. On the basis of this evaluation it may be necessary to set up an emergency escape respiratory protection program for these employees.

We appreciate the opportunity to clarify these matters for you.


Roger A. Clark, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs