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.

September 04, 2019

Mr. Todd Schexnider
378 Landry Lane
Rayne, Louisiana 70578

Dear Mr. Schexnider:

Thank you for your letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your letter was forwarded to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs for a response. Your letter and phone conversation with my employee requested clarification of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, specifically pertaining to escape-only respirators. This letter constitutes OSHA’s interpretation only of the requirements discussed herein, and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence. Your questions have been paraphrased, followed by our responses.

Background: The employer has truck drivers that drive in and out of oil/gas refineries. Drivers are provided with a North 7900 series air-purifying disposable mouthpiece type respirator for use as an escape-only respirator. The owner’s manual to the North 7900 Series disposable mouthpiece type escape respirator warns employers to be aware of any physical limitations or illnesses that would preclude or limit a user from wearing this type of respirator. However, an OSHA letter of interpretation from March 8, 1999, implies that a medical evaluation is not required for escape-only respirators.

Question 1: Are medical evaluations required for users of escape-only respirators?

Response: No. As explained in the OSHA directive, Inspection Procedures for the Respiratory Protection Standard (June 26, 2014), an employee who is only expected to wear a NIOSH-approved escape-only respirator (i.e., a respirator that is intended to be used only for emergency exits) is not required by the Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, to complete a medical evaluation. See https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/directives/CPL_02-00-158.pdf. The OSHA letter of interpretation to Ms. Mary Kiester (dated March 8, 1999) that you reference in your letter is consistent with the Directive’s policy. For more information on respirator medical evaluation requirements, please refer to the OSHA directive.

As further explained in this directive, a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is not considered an escape-only respirator. If you provide employees with a SCBA, which can be used to enter atmospheres considered immediately dangerous to life and health, a medical evaluation would be required. See March 8, 1999, letter to Mary Kiester.

Please also be aware that your truck drivers may be covered by OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard, 29 CFR 1910.120. This depends on the presence of a hazardous substance and the nature of the response of the truck driver. If drivers have a potential for exposure to hazardous substances during the loading or unloading process and take action to respond to a leak or spill from the vehicle, then they are covered by section 1910.120. However, if drivers do not leave the vehicle and are not exposed to hazardous substances at either end of the trip, then they are not covered by section 1910.120. For further guidance, please see the OSHA letter or interpretation to Mr. Lawrence M. Sontoski, dated July 17, 1991, which can be found at https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/1991-07-17, and also OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Safety and Health Topics page at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/hazpower/.

Question 2: If the North 7900 Series disposable mouthpiece type escape respirator is issued for escape-only use and a medical evaluation is not done, how will the employer know if the employee is medically fit to wear the respirator?

Response: Although a medical evaluation is not required for use of escape-only respirators, an employer can request that employees undergo a medical evaluation. In this situation, the employer must cover the expenses of the evaluation. See OSHA directive, Inspection Procedures for the Respiratory Protection Standard (June 26, 2014).

Regardless, employers that require employees to use escape-only respirators are required under section 1910.134(c)(1) to establish and implement those respirator program elements necessary for the proper use of the escape-only respirators. This includes having a written program and training. Employers must train employees on the correct use, cleaning, storage, and maintenance of respirators so that their use does not present a health hazard to the employee. Training is extremely important in regard to medical evaluations.

Respirator use of all kinds can cause alterations in breathing patterns, hypoventilation, retention of carbon dioxide, and an increase in workload on the body. Therefore, employees must be trained about the psychological and physiological burdens associated with such use. Psychological conditions, such as claustrophobia and severe anxiety, can negatively impact the effectiveness of respirators used by employees because, in some cases, these conditions can result in significant elevations in respiratory rate, heart rate, or blood pressure. Additionally, various pre-existing physiological medical conditions (e.g., cardiovascular and respiratory diseases) can be exacerbated by wearing a respirator. It is important for employees to be aware of potential implications of respirator use for individuals already at increased risk for cardiopulmonary disease.

Question 3: Should the employer always follow the manufacturer’s user manual for a particular respirator?

Response: The owner’s manual for a particular respirator can be helpful to the employer as well as the user. In most cases, the information contained in the user’s manual is designed to inform and educate the user as to the technical specifications and limitations specific to each particular model of respirator (in accordance to its use and care). As such, the owner’s manual may have more stringent requirements than the OSHA standard. OSHA standards do not prohibit employers from adopting more stringent requirements. Employers have discretion to implement procedures that go beyond the requirements of the OSHA standard.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our letters of interpretation do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. From time to time, letters are affected when the agency updates a standard, a legal decision impacts a standard, or changes in technology affect the interpretation. To assure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Directorate of Enforcement Programs at (202) 692-2100.

Sincerely,

 

Patrick J. Kapust, Acting Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs