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 http://www.osha.gov.

December 2, 1998

Mr. William H. Kincaid
Lockton Companies
1 Cityplace Drive
Suite 160
St. Louis, MO 63141-1453

Dear Mr. Kincaid:

This is in response to your letter dated June 18, addressed to Mr. John Miles, Jr., former Director for the Directorate of Compliance Programs, concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Respiratory Protection standard, CFR 1910.134. We apologize for the long delay in getting this response to you.

Your first question asks if it is mandatory for employees to submit to "these medical evaluations?" The answer to this is no, OSHA does not mandate that employees participate in the medical evaluation. However, the employer must perform a medical evaluation to determine each employee's fitness to wear a respirator. The responsibility for determining an employee's ability to use a respirator is the employer's. Employees who refuse to be medically evaluated cannot be assigned to work in areas where they are required to wear a respirator.

In your second question you ask if the employee declines the medical evaluation, can that employee voluntarily wear any respirator under any conditions without a medical evaluation? As you have described it, the workplace "conditions" are unknown, therefore the employer would be required to provide the appropriate respirators. Employees could not voluntarily use "any" respirator in this case and could not be assigned to work in areas where they are required to wear a respirator without an initial medical evaluation.

Your next question asked: If an employee has refused all or part of a medical evaluation, can the employer require the employee to use a respirator? A medical evaluation consist of the administration of a medical questionnaire (mandatory) or provision of a physical examination that elicits the same information as the questionnaire, prior to the employee using a tight-fitting respirator in the workplace. The employer must obtain a written recommendation as to the employee's ability to wear a respirator from the Physician or other Licensed Health Care Professional (PLHCP). The employer must ensure all of these provisions are met prior to allowing an employee to use a respirator where respirators are required. If the employee is required to wear a full face emergency SCBA under potentially IDLH conditions, the employer is responsible for providing a full respiratory protection program to these users, which includes a complete medical evaluation. Failure to do so could result in OSHA violations and penalties.

The final question is, does OSHA have a religious exemption for respirator use that allows employees to have a full beard? The standard does not interfere directly with employer policies regarding facial hair. OSHA has not exempted any workers for religious reasons, however we recognize that if such a situation should arise, there are respiratory protection alternatives such as loose-fitting hoods or helmets that will accommodate facial hair.

Thank you for your interest in safety and health. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact OSHA's Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 693-2190.

Sincerely,

Richard E. Fairfax
Director
Director of Compliance Programs