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RESPIRATORY PROTECTION IN GENERAL INDUSTRY:
AN OVERVIEW OF HAZARDS & OSHA'S PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS

This video provides a brief overview and general information on respiratory hazards in general industry and respiratory protection program requirements. OSHA uses the term "general industry" to refer to all industries not included in agriculture, construction, or maritime. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration - also called "OSHA" - and State OSHA agencies require employers to have respiratory protection programs if their workers are required to wear respirators on the job.

This video does not cover all of the things that your employer must do under Federal OSHA or State OSHA respiratory protection standards. This video can be part of the OSHA-required respiratory protection training, which includes many topics, like how to put on and take off a respirator and how to use, clean, and maintain your respirator. Your employer must also provide you with worksite-specific training.

While this video discusses some of your employer's responsibilities under OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard, it is important to remember that the purpose of a respirator is to protect your health and safety.

Respiratory hazards can exist in various forms at general industry worksites. They may be gases, vapors, dusts, mists, fumes, smoke, sprays, and fog. Some of these substances can make you sick or kill you if you breathe them in. Certain respiratory hazards act quickly, like carbon monoxide - an invisible, odorless gas - which can make you unconscious or kill you in minutes. Other respiratory hazards can take years to make you sick, like asbestos which can cause lung cancer years or even decades after you breathe it in. More examples of respiratory hazards in general industry include, but are not limited to:

  • dusts, such as those found when adding dry ingredients to a mixture;
  • metal fumes from welding, cutting, and smelting of metals;
  • solvent vapors from spray coatings, adhesives, paints, strippers, and cleaning solvents;
  • infectious agents, such as tuberculosis bacteria in healthcare settings;
  • chemical hazards, such as chlorine gas and anhydrous ammonia in chemical processing and use operations;
  • sensitizing vapors or dusts, such as isocyanates, certain epoxies, and beryllium;
  • oxygen deficiency, which might be found in confined spaces; and
  • pharmaceuticals during the production of prescription drugs.

When there are respiratory hazards in your workplace, your employer must use several methods to reduce your exposure to them, including:

  • engineering controls (such as local exhaust ventilation);
  • work practice controls (such as applying coatings using a brush rather than a spray); and
  • administrative controls (such as minimizing the exposure time or the number of workers exposed to the hazard).

When you and your co-workers cannot be adequately protected from respiratory hazards through use of these methods, then your employer must provide you with an appropriate respirator to protect your health.

Respiratory protection must be selected based on the hazard you will be exposed to on the job. Not every respirator will protect you against every hazard, so it's important for your employer to select the right one.

For example, filtering facepiece respirators may protect you against particulate hazards, such as dusts. However, a filtering facepiece respirator will not protect you against gas and vapor hazards, such as solvent vapors. If you are exposed to airborne hazards that are not particulates, you will need a different type of respirator. For example, you could use an air-purifying respirator with chemical cartridges or an atmosphere-supplying respirator, such as an airline respirator or a self-contained breathing apparatus - also known as an SCBA.

In addition, atmosphere-supplying respirators are the only respirators that will protect you against hazardous atmospheres, like carbon monoxide and lack of oxygen.

Remember, selecting an appropriate respirator is your employer's responsibility.

When respirators must be used in your workplace, your employer must have a respiratory protection program. This program must meet the requirements of either the Federal OSHA or your State OSHA respiratory protection standard.

The standard requires your employer to do the following:

  • develop and implement a written respiratory protection program;
  • evaluate the respiratory hazards in the workplace;
  • select and provide appropriate respirators;
  • provide worker medical evaluations and respirator fit testing;
  • provide for the maintenance, storage, and cleaning of respirators;
  • provide worker training about respiratory hazards and proper respirator use;
  • evaluate workers' use of respirators and correct any problems;
  • provide you with access to specific records and documents, such as a written copy of your employer's respiratory protection program; and
  • conduct a periodic program review.

Because each workplace is different, it is very important that your employer's respiratory protection program address your specific workplace. For example, workplaces may differ in the following ways:

  • the types and amount of respiratory hazards present;
  • the people who manage the program;
  • the policies and procedures for tasks, such as respirator selection, maintenance, and use; and
  • other exposure control methods, such as using local exhaust ventilation.

Workplace conditions that affect respiratory hazards and respirator use may change over time. Therefore, the written program must be updated as necessary to account for those changes in workplace conditions that affect respiratory hazards and respirator use. For example, changes in workplace conditions related to respiratory hazards could include:

  • new work processes or techniques, such as installing a new electroplating line;
  • the use of new or different materials or chemicals;
  • changes in the amount of a respiratory hazard in the workplace; or
  • changes in the types of respirators being used.

Notify your supervisor if something changes in your workplace that conflicts with, or may not be covered by, your respirator training or established workplace policies or procedures.

Your employer's respiratory protection program must be managed by a qualified, trained program administrator. This person must monitor the program and make sure that you and your co-workers are adequately protected. The program administrator will know a lot about your workplace respiratory protection program and should be able to answer any questions you may have about respirator use. The program administrator must know about the requirements of the federal OSHA or State OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard and evaluate the program periodically and make any necessary changes.

This video has provided you with a brief overview of respiratory hazards in general industry and respiratory protection program requirements. There are many other things that you must know and do before you can safely use a respirator in a hazardous work environment. While this video may be part of your respiratory protection training, your employer must also provide you with additional training on respirators, including worksite-specific training. Remember, if you don't know if a respirator is needed for the task you will be doing, or if you are unsure about how to properly use a respirator or which filter or cartridge to use, talk to your supervisor before entering the hazardous area.

For more information about respirator use in your workplace, refer to these OSHA and NIOSH websites. You will find OSHA's respiratory protection standard, additional respirator training videos, and other guidance material to help you work safely.