Respiratory Protection Program

The Office of Environmental Health and Safety has developed the Respiratory Protection Program in compliance with federal and state laws as regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The basis of this standard is to prevent atmospheric contamination by controlling those occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors, which workers are sometimes exposed to. Respiratory protection will only be implemented when effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted. Affected departments should contact Environmental Health and Safety for guidance on proper selection and use of respirators for employees’ protection.

Respirators may be used only after a successful medical evaluation, training, and fit testing. EH&S provides respirator training and fit testing (if necessary) to employees enrolled in the respiratory protection program.

For program elements and resources, please visit the links provided. If you have questions about this program, contact the EH&S office at 252.328.6166.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a respirator and when is it required?

A respirator is a protective face-piece, hood or helmet that is designed to protect the wearer against a variety of harmful airborne agents. OSHA’s respirator standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, which requires the use of respirators to protect employees from breathing contaminated and/or oxygen-deficient air when effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted. Several other OSHA regulations also require the use of respirators.

Why must I go through EH&S Respiratory Protection Program?

Going through EH&S increases the chances of using the respirator correctly. Respirators must be selected on the basis of hazards to which the worker is exposed (i.e., particulates, vapors, oxygen-deficiency, or combination). Also, OSHA requires the use of certified respirators for safety. EH&S program administrator directs users on proper selection, training, fit testing and maintenance of respirator. A respirator will only protect if it is used correctly. Also, OSHA requires a number of written elements for respirator protection program as recognized and managed by EH&S. If you have questions contact the Program Administrator here or 328-6166.

What do I need to know about the program?

The program involves a coordinated process for the use of respirator which includes procedures for selection, medical evaluation, fit testing, training, use and care of respirators.

Proper respirator size is determined through a respirator fit test. Employees approved to use negative or positive pressure tight-fitting face-piece respirators must pass an appropriate fit test using the procedures detailed in the EH&S respiratory protection program.

Fit testing of all negative or positive pressure tight-fitting face-piece respirators is required prior to initial use, whenever a different respirator face-piece is used, and at least annually thereafter. An additional fit test is required whenever there are changes in the user’s physical condition that could affect respirator fit (e.g., facial scarring, dental changes, cosmetic surgery, or an obvious change in body weight). EH&S performs all fit tests using the same make, model, style, and size of respirator that will be used. When respiratory protection is required and respirators are issued to employees, OSHA requires fit testing be conducted as part of that respiratory protection program.

If a respirator is used voluntarily in a situation where respiratory protection is not mandated, then fit testing is not required.

A physician has to determine the employee’s ability to use a respirator before the employee is fit tested or required to use the respirator in the workplace. The Office of Prospective Health performs this evaluation (medical) at no cost to prospective user. Please see the EH&S website for medical evaluation questionnaire.

If I have facial hair or wear glasses can I use a respirator?

Tight-fitting face-piece respirators must not be worn by employees who have facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the face-piece and the face or that interferes with valve function. Respirators that do not rely on a tight face seal, such as hoods or helmets, may be used by bearded individuals.

If an employee wears corrective glasses or goggles or other personal protective equipment, EH&S must have to inspect it to ensure such equipment is worn in a manner that does not interfere with the seal of the face-piece to the face of the user. Contact lenses can be worn with any type of respirator, but their use is not recommended in dusty atmospheres while wearing a half-mask face-piece.

What is the difference between a respirator and a standard face mask?

Respirators are designed for higher filtration efficiency and better facial fit than standard face masks. Respirators must be approved by NIOSH and all NIOSH-approved respirators must be marked as such. Look for the NIOSH approval label and on product dispensers and the NIOSH assigned approval code on each respirator if you are unsure if a product is a respirator or a standard face mask.

How long can a particulate respirator be used before it must be discarded?

Respirators with replaceable filters are reusable, and a respirator classified as disposable may be reused by the same worker as long as it functions properly. All filters must be replaced whenever they are damaged, soiled, or causing noticeably increased breathing resistance (e.g., causing discomfort to the wearer). Before each use, the outside of the filter material should be inspected. If the filter material is physically damaged or soiled, the filter should be changed (in the case of respirators with replaceable filters) or the respirator discarded (in the case of disposable respirators). Always follow the respirator filter manufacturer’s service-time-limit recommendations. See EH&S respiratory protection program for cartridge change schedules and maintenance of respirators.