Respiratory Protection in the Workplace
Oftentimes, in the construction and manufacturing industries, workers are exposed to harmful dusts, smokes, fogs, fumes, mists, vapors, gases, and random spraying particles while working. There are also times where workers will have to work in environments with little to no oxygen. When in these types of situations, the likelihood of employees developing cancers, lung impairments, diseases, or even dying significantly increases. Without respiratory protection in these instances, workers are not protecting themselves from these harmful chemicals and particles and are setting themselves up for serious health problems, both now as well as down the road. Whenever there are toxic substances present in the workplace, and there are no engineering controls or other solutions that will reduce or eliminate them, then respiratory protection is absolutely essential to protecting oneself from diseases or death.
When in a hazardous environment, where there is a lack of oxygen or dangerous particles are present, workers’ heart rates can accelerate, their breathing rates can increase, and their thinking will become impaired. When this happens, workers lose their coordination and focus and the odds of an accident happening on the job significantly increases. Even just a split second of lost coordination can result in devastating consequences and could affect much more than just the worker and the job site itself. By wearing the appropriate respiratory protection for each given job, you can eliminate these problems and increase the safety of your workers and your job site. Not only that, worker morale will increase and, along with that, so will productivity.
Employees are required to wear respirators whenever they are engineering and current workplace control measures are not sufficient enough to prevent or eliminate environmental contamination. Enclosing or confining the contaminant-producing operation, exhausting the contaminant, or replacing the contaminant with less toxic substances are all great strategies to reduce or eliminate the dangers of respiratory related problems in the workplace. It is important to note that respirators have their limits and cannot completely make up for a lack of proper engineering or workplace best practices. However, respirators can still provide adequate protection during times where it is simply not possible to reduce airborne contaminants to the point where they are below the set occupational exposure levels. Instances like these would be during specific maintenance repair operations, when engineering controls are being installed, or when there is an emergency. Just remember, regardless of the circumstances you may be working in, you should ALWAYS have respiratory protection on to protect yourself. Without respiratory protection, you are completely exposing yourself to every dangerous chemical you come in touch with.
It is required by OSHA that all employers establish and maintain an effective respiratory protection program whenever employees have to wear respirators to protect themselves while working. There are different respirators for different dangers and workers are responsible for knowing what to wear for each given situation and complying with the respiratory protection program, along with other set rules and regulations. OSHA requires that the respiratory protection program contain the following elements:
- Requirements for program administration.
- Job site specific procedures.
- Respirator selection.
- Proper employee training.
- Fit testing.
- Medical evaluation.
- Correct respirator use.
- Cleaning, maintenance, and repair.
Along with the above, employees must also wear respirators when engineering controls are being installed. If there are no engineering controls installed, then employers are required to provide respiratory protection where appropriate. Workers should know how to properly select their equipment, how it should be used, and how it should be maintained for each given situation. Employers are also required to train employees on all aspects of the site’s respiratory protection program. When it comes to respiratory protection in the workplace, everyone at a given job site should be on the same page. This increases communication, employee morale, and productivity while also keeping your workers safe.