The fundamental goal of any respiratory protection program is to control occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, and/or vapours.
The defence against these contaminants is simple: keep them out of the air that workers breathe.
Always implement engineering and/or administrative controls first. If contaminants still present a hazard, you must provide appropriate respiratory protection for every employee who might be exposed to them.
ASNZS 1715 & international standards define the specific requirements which must be followed, including the capabilities of appropriate respiratory protection. Employers should follow the standards requirements and any governmental regulations, both general which apply to all workplaces and the specific for exposures in the particular industry, such as lead, silica dust, asbestos, and benzene.
Chances are that you are already familiar with the need for and use of respirators in your workplace, but as with anything else, it doesn’t hurt to review your current program against standard operating procedures governing the selection and use of respirators.
The seven key elements that every respiratory protection program should contain are:
1. A written plan detailing how the program will be administered
Establish written standard operating procedures governing the selection and use of respirators. Regular inspection and evaluation of the program will ensure its continued effectiveness.
2. A complete assessment and knowledge of respiratory hazards that will be encountered in the workplace
It is important to first understand the types of respiratory hazards inherent to your industry. The lungs represent the quickest and most direct avenue for toxic materials to enter the body. The three basic classifications of respiratory hazards are: oxygen-deficient air, particulate contaminants; gas and vapour contaminants. Respirators fall under two classifications: air-purifying and air-supplied.
3. Procedures and equipment to control respiratory hazards, including the use of engineering controls and work practices designed to limit or reduce employee exposures to such hazards
This includes consideration of process encapsulation or isolation; use of less toxic materials in the process and suitable exhaust ventilation, filters, and scrubbers to control the effluents. Proper respiratory protective devices should be used whenever engineering controls are unable to eliminate all airborne hazards.
4. Guidelines for the proper selection of appropriate respiratory protective equipment
Respiratory protective devices vary in design, application, and protective capability. Thus, the user must assess the inhalation hazard and understand the specific use limitations of available equipment to assure proper selection.
5. An employee training program
This would be aimed at covering hazard recognition, the dangers associated with respiratory hazards, and proper care and use of respiratory protective equipment. An employee should have the opportunity to handle the device, have it fitted properly, test its face-to-facepiece seal, and wear it in normal air for a long familiarity period.
6. Inspection, maintenance, and repair of respiratory protective equipment
Proper inspection, maintenance, and repair of respiratory protective equipment are mandatory to ensure success of any respiratory protection program. The goal is to maintain the equipment in a condition that provides the same effectiveness as it had when it was first manufactured.
7. Medical surveillance of employees
Employers must determine an employee’s ability to use a respirator. Workers should never be assigned to any operation requiring respiratory protection until a doctor has determined that they are capable - physically and psychologically - to perform the work using the respiratory protective equipment.
The employer should regularly consult employees required to use respirators to assess the employees’ views on program effectiveness and to identify any problems, to ensure that they are using the respirators properly.
An employee’s comfort, especially for an extended period of time, is a key factor in determining if respiratory protective equipment will be effective in the working environment. Consider the ease of integration of respirators with other personal protective equipment, including head protection, eye protection and hearing protection. This is in addition to the many important criteria in selecting the correct respiratory protection for comfort, including soft material, light weight and stability on the face, which all contribute to greater comfort. Even simple factors such as hair pulling from respirator straps cause discomfort during a workers shift.
Employee acceptance of a respiratory protection program will be greater if attention is made to factors which improve the wearing experience. It seems obvious but for a respirator to work it must be worn. Not wearing a respirator is the most common source of respiratory program failure.
The bottom line: choose for comfort as well as safety.