Tips for Respiratory Protection Programs

There is nothing more essential to life than the air we breathe, and in some work environments that air can be compromised. To combat this, workers are required to wear respirators that help filter out toxins and provide breathable oxygen. However, respirators can be big, bulky, and they protect against largely invisible dangers, so it’s no surprise that OSHA cited respirator usage as one of its top citations for violation or non-compliance. In this post, we’re going to go over a few of the most prominent reasons for non-compliance and then talk about what you can do about each one.

Fit & Comfort

As with much personal protection equipment (PPE’s), the first line of resistance usually comes down to fit and comfort. If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable in a respirator or it doesn’t seal properly to their face, it may be ineffective or they may choose to not wear it at all, putting both themselves and your business at risk.

Every employee that is going to be wearing a respirator should be fit-tested and trained on how to wear and use the device properly. At this stage, additional sizes and styles can be ordered to avoid problems with fit and comfort. Whenever a different face piece is used, the testing needs to be repeated in order to ensure that everything is still fitting correctly.

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The Plan

A big problem in many workplaces is that they don’t have a written plan for respirator use. It may sound silly or excessive, but just having the devices around the work station is not enough to expect compliance, and you’re going to run into problems. Here are some subcategories that a written plan should cover:

    • The name and job title of whoever is in charge of your respirator program: When employees have questions about who to go to or talk to when they need new equipment or have a problem with a respirator, they need to be able to easily identify and contact someone who can help them. There should always be at least one of the listed individuals on duty during normal working hours.
    • Details of which tasks and employees require respirators: In far too many cases, non-compliance excuses come down to “I didn’t know I needed to wear X PPE when doing Y task…” In order to avoid these types of situations, you should clearly detail who needs to wear a respirator and what tasks require one, (example would be a floor sign like this one). This way there will be no question of who knew or who didn’t; anyone who still uses this excuse after the requirements have been explicitly stated is probably a good candidate for disciplinary action. This section of your plan should also include if certain jobs require different levels of protection, as different respirators are rated for different tasks and must be appropriate.
    • Proper handling and storage of equipment: Organization is key, especially when working with a limited number of devices. If respirators are misplaced or are not easily accessible at the time they are needed, employees may just opt to not use one in order to not halt production. You need to label where things should be stored be so that employees can get to them easily.
    • Evaluations: Employees using respirators should regularly be monitored and have check ups scheduled to make sure that their respirators are doing their job and that they aren’t breathing in anything they shouldn’t. In a whole different kind of evaluation altogether, you should be gauging your program’s effectiveness and recording compliance (or non-compliance) and addressing any issues that arise.
  • Training plans: Lay out exactly when and where employees will be trained on the use of respirators. In addition, detail exactly what will be taught in training; consider things like the bullet points above (usage, storage, evaluations, getting help, etc).
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