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Course 709 - Personal Protective Equipment

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Respiratory Protection


Black lung, farmer's lung, asbestosis, silicosis... You've probably heard of these work-related respiratory diseases and know of their consequences. These are just a few of the medical conditions that result when workers breathe contaminated air. Protecting workers can be difficult, because there are so many types of contaminants and there is no single method for controlling them in all workplaces. Your workplace, like most, may contain one or more of the following hazards in the form of harmful:

  • dusts
  • fogs
  • fumes
  • mists
  • gases
  • smokes
  • sprays
  • vapors
  • If hazardous atmospheres are generated by any of the above, it must be controlled to prevent disease to workers. What makes a substance harmful depends on its toxicity, chemical state, physical form, concentration, and the period of time one is exposed. Examples include particulates, gases and vapors, and biological organisms. Harmful effects are wide ranging and may occur immediately or take years to develop.

    When the oxygen concentration in normal breathing air drops below 19.5 percent by volume, the air becomes oxygen deficient - a significant concern for those who work in confined spaces. Harmful effects include impaired thinking and coordination, unconsciousness, and death.

    1. When the oxygen concentration in normal breathing air drops below _____ by volume, the air becomes oxygen deficient.

    a. 15.5 percent
    b. 19.5 percent
    c. 21.5 percent
    d. 23.5 percent

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    Controlling Hazards

    First Priority - Elimination or Substitution

    Good ventilation helps eliminate hazardous atmospheres.

    If it is possible, be sure to first try to eliminate the hazard, or substitute a hazardous substance with a less hazardous substance, to reduce the severity of exposure. If you can eliminate the source of a hazardous atmosphere, that's the best plan. The usual method to eliminate a hazardous atmosphere in a confined space is forced-air ventilation. If elimination is not feasible, using material that creates a less toxic atmosphere is required.


    If elimination or substitution is not possible, the next best hazard control strategy is to design or redesign equipment and machinery to isolate or reduce the sources of the hazardous atmospheres.

    In fact, OSHA standards mandate that employers use engineering controls whenever possible to control occupational diseases caused by breathing contaminated air in their workplaces.

    Examples of acceptable engineering controls to isolate or reduce atmospheric hazards include:

    • enclosure or confinement of the operation; and
    • general and local ventilation built into the space.


    It's important to know that when effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted, the employer must provide appropriate respirators to protect the health of the employee and establish and maintain an effective respiratory protective program. And, the employee must use respiratory protection according to their employer's instructions and training.

    2. Which of the following hazard control strategies, when possible, is required by OSHA to protect employees from exposure to hazardous atmospheres?

    a. Elimination
    b. Administrative controls
    c. Engineering controls
    d. Respiratory protection

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    Respiratory Protection Program Requirements

    The employer must develop and implement a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures and elements for required respirator use. The program must be administered by a suitably trained program administrator. In addition, certain program elements may be required for voluntary use to prevent potential hazards associated with the use of the respirator.

    OSHA's CPL 02-02-054 - Respiratory Protection Program Guidelines will give you insight into the OSHA inspection protocol for respiratory protection. Design your own audits with these strategies in mind.

    You can't just hand out respirators and expect employees to use them properly. If respirators are necessary to protect your employees, you must have a written program that describes how you will accomplish the following:

    • select appropriate respirators for employees;
    • conduct medical evaluations for employees who use respirators;
    • fit-test employees who use tight-fitting respirators;
    • ensure employees use respirators correctly during regular activities and during emergencies;
    • ensure respirators are clean and properly maintained;
    • ensure air-quality in atmosphere-supplying respirators;
    • train employees to protect themselves from respiratory hazards; and
    • evaluate your program's effectiveness.

    These are the critical elements of a respiratory protection program. An effective program ensures that employees are medically able to use respirators, that their respirators fit properly, and that they know how to use and care for them.

    Inspection Requirements

    Respiratory protection is no better than the respirator in use, even though it is worn correctly. Frequent random inspections must be conducted by a qualified individual to assure that respirators are properly selected, used, cleaned, and maintained.

    3. Random inspections must be conducted _____ by a qualified individual to assure that respirators are properly selected, used, cleaned, and maintained.

    a. monthly
    b. quarterly
    c. frequently
    d. annually

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    Inspecting Respirators

    Follow the important points below when inspecting respirators.

    • Inspect respirators that are used routinely during cleaning.
    • Replace any worn or deteriorated parts.
    • Be sure to thoroughly inspect respirators for emergency use, such as self-contained devices, at least once a month and after each use.
    • Inspect self-contained breathing apparatus monthly.
    • Make sure air and oxygen cylinders are fully charged according to the manufacturer's instructions.
    • Make sure that the regulator and warning devices function properly.
    • Check the tightness of connections and the condition of the facepiece, headbands, valves, connecting tube, and canisters.
    • Inspect rubber or elastomer (elastic rubber) parts for pliability and signs of deterioration.
    • Stretch and manipulate rubber or elastomer parts with a massaging action to keep them pliable and flexible and prevent them from taking a set during storage.
    • A record must be kept of inspection dates and findings for respirators maintained for emergency use.

    Inspecting the work area: Make sure appropriate surveillance of work area conditions and degree of employee exposure or stress is conducted.

    Inspecting the program: Regularly inspect and evaluate the program to determine its continued effectiveness.

    4. How often should a self-contained breathing apparatus be inspected?

    a. As needed
    b. Monthly
    c. Quarterly
    d. Annually

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    For an effective respirator program, it's essential that supervisors and workers be properly instructed by a competent person in:

    • selecting appropriate protection;
    • donning and doffing;
    • using respirators;
    • storing and maintaining respirators;
    • detecting defects;
    • proper fitting; and
    • testing for proper seal.

    In your initial and annual respirator training, be sure to include both an educational component and a training component. The educational component increases the learner's understanding of the importance of using respirators. The training component establishes or improves the skills needed to use the respirator.

    Make sure students wear the respirator in normal air for a long familiarity period and then in a test atmosphere.

    5. Each of the following topics is required for respirator training EXCEPT _____.

    a. testing for proper seal
    b. donning and doffing
    c. consequences for non-compliance
    d. detecting defects

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    Selecting Respirators

    It's important to select and provide an appropriate respirator based on the respiratory hazard(s) to which the worker is exposed, and workplace and user factors that affect respirator performance and reliability. The employer must select a NIOSH-certified respirator. The respirator must be used in compliance with the conditions of its certification.

    The employer must identify and evaluate the respiratory hazard(s) in the workplace. This evaluation must include a reasonable estimate of employee exposures to respiratory hazard(s) and an identification of the contaminant's chemical state and physical form.

    Where the employer cannot identify or reasonably estimate the employee exposure, the employer must consider the atmosphere to be Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH). Immediately dangerous to life or health means an atmosphere that poses an immediate threat to life, would cause irreversible adverse health effects, or would impair an individual's ability to escape from a dangerous atmosphere.

    The employer must select respirators from a sufficient number of respirator models and sizes so that the respirator is acceptable to and correctly fits the user.

    Respirators for Atmospheres that Are IDLH

    The employer must provide the following respirators for employee use in IDLH atmospheres:

    • a full facepiece pressure demand SCBA certified by NIOSH for a minimum service life of thirty minutes; or
    • a combination full facepiece pressure demand supplied-air respirator (SAR) with auxiliary self-contained air supply.

    Respirators provided only for escape from IDLH atmospheres must be NIOSH-certified for escape from the atmosphere in which they will be used. All oxygen-deficient atmospheres must be considered IDLH.

    Exception: If the employer demonstrates that, under all foreseeable conditions, the oxygen concentration can be maintained within the ranges specified in Table II of the standard (i.e., for the altitudes set out in the table), then any atmosphere-supplying respirator may be used.

    See the

    Table II
    Altitude (ft) Oxygen deficient atmospheres (%O2) for which the employer atmosphere may rely on supplying respirators
    Less than 3,001 16.0 - 19.5
    3,0001 - 4,000 16.4 - 19.5
    4,001 - 5,000 17.1 - 19.5
    5,001 - 6,000 17.8 - 19.5
    6,001 - 7,000 18.5 - 19.5
    7,001 - 8,000* 19.3 - 19.5

    *Above 8,000 feet the exception does not apply. Oxygen-enriched breathing air must be supplied above 14,000 feet.

    6. Where the employer cannot identify or reasonably estimate employee exposure to respiratory hazards, the employer must consider the atmosphere to be which of the following?

    a. Hazardous Atmospheric Space (HAS)
    b. Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH)
    c. Atmosphere Hazardous to Breathing (AHB)
    d. Hazardous Workspace - Respiration (HWR)

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    Respirators for Atmospheres that Are Not IDLH

    The employer must provide a respirator that is adequate to protect the health of the employee and ensure compliance with all other OSHA statutory and regulatory requirements, under routine and reasonably foreseeable emergency situations.

    The respirator selected must be appropriate for the chemical state and physical form of the contaminant.

    For protection against gases and vapors, the employer must provide an atmosphere-supplying respirator, or an air-purifying respirator, provided that:

    • the respirator is equipped with an end-of-service-life indicator (ESLI) certified by NIOSH for the contaminant; or
    • if there is no ESLI appropriate for conditions in the employer's workplace, the employer implements a change schedule for canisters and cartridges that is based on objective information or data that will ensure that canisters and cartridges are changed before the end of their service life. The employer must describe in the respirator program the information and data relied upon and the basis for the canister and cartridge change schedule and the basis for reliance on the data.

    For protection against particulates, the employer must provide:

    • an atmosphere-supplying respirator; or
    • An air-purifying respirator equipped with a filter certified by NIOSH under 30 CFR part 11 as a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, or an air-purifying respirator equipped with a filter certified for particulates by NIOSH under 42 CFR part 84; or
    • for contaminants consisting primarily of particles with mass median aerodynamic diameters (MMAD) of at least 2 micrometers, an air-purifying respirator equipped with any filter certified for particulates by NIOSH.

    7. To be adequately protective, the employer must select a respirator that is appropriate for which of the following hazard characteristics?

    a. The probability of exposure to the contaminant
    b. The chemical state and physical form of the contaminant
    c. The duration of exposure to the contaminant
    d. The frequency of exposure to the contaminant

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    Using Respirators

    Written procedures: It's important to develop standard procedures for respirator use. These should include all information and guidance necessary for their proper selection, use, and care. Also include possible emergency and routine uses of respirators.

    Physical ability to use: Make sure employees are not assigned to tasks requiring respirators unless they are physically able to adequately perform the work and use the equipment. If there is any question or concern about using the respirator, a local physician must determine what health and physical conditions are pertinent. In such cases, periodically review the respirator user's medical status.

    Face seal: Do not wear respirators when conditions prevent a good face seal. Such conditions may be a growth of beard, sideburns, a skull cap that projects under the facepiece, or temple pieces on glasses. Also, the absence of one or both dentures can seriously affect the fit of a facepiece. It's important to conduct periodic evaluation of worker compliance with this requirement. To assure proper protection, the facepiece fit must be checked by the wearer, using the manufacturer's facepiece fittings instructions, each time he or she puts on the respirator.

    Using corrective lenses: Providing respiratory protection for individuals wearing corrective glasses is a serious problem. A proper seal is impossible if the temple bars of eye glasses extend through the sealing edge of the full facepiece. As a temporary measure, taping glasses with short temple bars or without temple bars to the wearer's head is acceptable. Systems have been developed for mounting corrective lenses inside full facepieces. When a worker must wear corrective lenses as part of the facepiece, the facepiece and lenses must be fitted by qualified individuals to provide good vision, comfort, and a gas-tight seal.

    If corrective spectacles or goggles are required, they must not affect the fit of the facepiece. Proper selection of equipment is important to avoid this problem.

    Using contact lenses: OSHA Technical Manual states that OSHA's current standard on respiratory protection, unlike the previous one, allows the use of contact lenses with respirators where the wearer has successfully worn such lenses before.

    8. Why might beards, sideburns, or temple pieces on glasses prevent the safe use of a respirator?

    a. They might cause the respirator facepiece to fog more easily
    b. They may prevent an adequate facepiece seal
    c. They look unsightly with respirators
    d. They can clog or deform the respirator

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    Maintaining Respirators

    Equipment must be properly maintained to retain its original effectiveness.

    Respirators must be regularly cleaned and disinfected. Those used by more than one worker must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each use.

    Respirators must be stored in a convenient, clean, and sanitary location. A program for maintenance and care of respirators must be adjusted to the type of plant, working conditions, and hazards involved, and must include the following basic services:

    • inspection for defects (including a leak check);
    • cleaning and disinfecting;
    • repair; and
    • storage.

    Routinely used respirators must be collected, cleaned, and disinfected as frequently as necessary to ensure that proper protection is provided for the wearer. Respirators maintained for emergency use must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

    Replacement or repairs must be done only by experienced persons with parts designed for the respirator. No attempt must be made to replace components or to make adjustments or repairs beyond the manufacturer's recommendations. Reducing or admission valves or regulators must be returned to the manufacturer or to a trained technician for adjustment or repair.

    9. If more than one person uses a respirator, how often should it be disinfected?

    a. After every use
    b. Daily
    c. As needed
    d. At the end of the work shift

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    Storing Respirators

    What will OSHA do if they see a respirator hanging on the wall like this?

    After inspection, cleaning, and necessary repair, respirators must be stored to protect against dust, sunlight, heat, extreme cold, excessive moisture, or damaging chemicals. Respirators placed at stations and work areas for emergency use should be quickly accessible at all times and should be stored in compartments built for the purpose. The compartments should be clearly marked. Routinely used respirators, such as dust respirators, may be placed in plastic bags. Respirators should not be stored in such places as lockers or tool boxes unless they are in carrying cases or cartons.

    Respirators should be packed or stored so that the facepiece and exhalation valve will rest in a normal position and function will not be impaired by the elastomer setting in an abnormal position.

    Emergency Procedures

    In areas where the wearer, with failure of the respirator, could be overcome by a toxic or oxygen-deficient atmosphere, at least one additional person must be present. Communications (visual, voice, or signal line) must be maintained between both or all individuals present. Planning must be such that one individual will be unaffected by any likely incident and have the proper rescue equipment to be able to assist the other(s) in case of emergency.

    When self-contained breathing apparatus or hose masks with blowers are used in atmospheres immediately dangerous to life or health, standby persons must be present with suitable rescue equipment.

    Persons using air line respirators in atmospheres immediately hazardous to life or health must be equipped with safety harnesses and safety lines for lifting or removing persons from hazardous atmospheres or other and equivalent provisions for the rescue of persons from hazardous atmospheres must be used. A standby person or persons with suitable self-contained breathing apparatus must be at the nearest fresh air base for emergency rescue.

    10. In which of the following locations may be used to store routinely-used respirators, such as dust respirators, without being placed in a carrying case or carton?

    a. Lockers
    b. Tool boxes
    c. Plastic bags
    d. Wall hooks

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    Medical Evaluation

    Using a respirator may place a physiological burden on employees that varies with the type of respirator worn, the job and workplace conditions in which the respirator is used, and the medical status of the employee.

    The employer must provide a medical evaluation 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 employer may discontinue an employee's medical evaluations when the employee is no longer required to use a respirator.

    Medical Evaluation Procedures

    The employer must identify a physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP) to perform medical evaluations using a medical questionnaire or an initial medical examination that obtains the same information as the medical questionnaire.

    The medical evaluation must obtain the information requested by the questionnaire in Sections 1 and 2, Part A of Appendix C of the standard.

    Follow-up Medical Examination

    The employer must ensure that a follow-up medical examination is provided for an employee who gives a positive response to any question among questions 1 through 8 in Section 2, Part A of Appendix C of the standard or whose initial medical examination demonstrates the need for a follow-up medical examination.

    The follow-up medical examination must include any medical tests, consultations, or diagnostic procedures that the PLHCP deems necessary to make a final determination.

    11. When is the employer required to provide a medical evaluation to determine the employee's ability to use a respirator?

    a. When the employee wants to use their own respirator
    b. Before the employee is hired
    c. When the employee no longer uses the respirator
    d. Before the employee is fit tested

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    Medical Determination

    In determining the employee's ability to use a respirator, the employer must obtain a written recommendation regarding the employee's ability to use the respirator from the PLHCP. The recommendation must provide only the following information:

    • any limitations on respirator use related to the medical condition of the employee, or relating to the workplace conditions in which the respirator will be used, including whether or not the employee is medically able to use the respirator;
    • the need, if any, for follow-up medical evaluations; and
    • a statement that the PLHCP has provided the employee with a copy of the PLHCP's written recommendation.

    If the respirator is a negative pressure respirator and the PLHCP finds a medical condition that may place the employee's health at increased risk if the respirator is used, the employer must provide a Positive Air Pressure Respirator (PAPR) if the PLHCP's medical evaluation finds that the employee can use such a respirator; if a subsequent medical evaluation finds that the employee is medically able to use a negative pressure respirator, then the employer is no longer required to provide a PAPR.

    Additional Medical Evaluations

    At a minimum, the employer must provide additional medical evaluations that comply with the requirements of this section if:

    • an employee reports medical signs or symptoms that are related to their ability to use a respirator;
    • a PLHCP, supervisor, or the respirator program administrator informs the employer that an employee needs to be reevaluated;
    • information from the respiratory protection program, including observations made during fit testing and program evaluation, indicates a need for employee reevaluation; or
    • a change occurs in workplace conditions (e.g., physical work effort, protective clothing, or temperature) that may result in a substantial increase in the physiological burden placed on an employee.

    12. The employer must obtain a written recommendation regarding the employee's ability to use the respirator from _____.

    a. the manufacturer
    b. the health care provider
    c. the safety manager
    d. the employee's supervisor

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    Identification of Filters, Cartridges, and Canisters

    The employer must ensure that all filters, cartridges and canisters used in the workplace are labeled and color coded with the NIOSH approval label and that the label is not removed and remains legible.

    Where respirator use is not required

    An employer may provide respirators at the request of employees or permit employees to use their own respirators, if the employer determines that such respirator use will not in itself create a hazard.

    If the employer determines that any voluntary respirator use is permissible, the employer must provide the respirator users with the information contained in Appendix D of the standard.

    In addition, the employer must establish and implement those elements of a written respiratory protection program necessary to ensure that any employee using a respirator voluntarily is medically able to use that respirator, and that the respirator is cleaned, stored, and maintained so that its use does not present a health hazard to the user. Exception: Employers are not required to include in a written respiratory protection program those employees whose only use of respirators involves the voluntary use of filtering facepieces (dust masks).

    13. The employer must have a written respiratory program for employees who voluntarily use respirators unless _____.

    there are 10 or fewer employees in the company
    they only use filtering facepieces (dust masks)
    employee waive the requirement for a written program
    an OSHA inspector has given them permission to do so

    Check your Work

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