OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
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 in place.
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:
- 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").
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