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The Respiratory Protection Program

Respiratory Protection Program – General Industry
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Respiratory Protection Program – Construction
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One of the primary responsibilities of the employer under the respiratory protection program is to develop and implement a written plan that describes in detail worksite-specific procedures and practices for required respirator use. A suitably trained program manager should administer the written plan. Also, certain program elements may be required for voluntary use to prevent potential hazards associated with the use of the respirator.

Program Elements

Employers can't just hand out respirators and expect to protect their employees. If employers evaluate your workplace, find respiratory hazards, and determine respirators are necessary to protect employees, employers must develop a respiratory protection program.

An effective program ensures employees are medically able to use respirators, their respirators fit properly, and they know how to use and care for them. It must include a written plan that contains the following elements:

  • procedures for selecting respirators for use in the workplace;
  • medical evaluations for those persons required to use respirators;
  • fit testing procedures for tight-fitting respirators;
  • use of respirators in routine and reasonably foreseeable emergency escape situations;
  • procedures and schedules for cleaning, disinfecting, storing, inspecting, repairing, and otherwise maintaining respirators;
  • procedures to ensure adequate air quality, quantity, and flow of breathing air for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA);
  • training employees in the respiratory hazards to which they are potentially exposed;
  • training employees on the proper use of respirators, including putting on and removing them, any limitations on their use, and maintenance procedures; and
  • procedures for regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the program.

1. If employers determine respirators are necessary to protect employees, they must _____.

a. require employees to purchase respirators
b. encourage the use of dust mask respirators
c. report respirator use to OSHA annually
d. develop a respiratory protection program

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Respiratory Program Manager Duties

engineering control

The Respiratory Protection Program (RPR) may be administered by the Safety Manager or other competent person. The Program Administrator is responsible for all facets of the program and has full authority to make necessary decisions to ensure success of this program.

The Program Administrator should develop written detailed instructions covering each of the basic elements in the RPR program, and is usually solely authorized to amend the instructions.

The Program Administrator has many important duties. The program administrator should:

  • ensure the program is understood and followed by all affected employees;
  • ensure affected employees receive appropriate training, fit testing, and medical evaluations as required;
  • ensure the availability of appropriate respirators, sufficient supplies (e.g., filters, chemical cartridges, canisters, cleaning and disinfecting solutions) and spare parts;
  • ensure respirators are properly cleaned, maintained, and stored according to the respiratory protection program;
  • monitor users to ensure they use respirators according to their certifications;
  • obtain new equipment and maintain non-individually-assigned equipment that is ready to be re-issued;
  • properly maintain emergency escape self-contained breathing apparatus;
  • interview employees who use respirators to assess their views on program effectiveness and to identify and correct any problems;
  • conduct evaluations of the respiratory protection program as necessary, and update written programs as needed; and
  • maintain records required by the program.

2. The Respiratory Protection Program Administrator should be _____.

a. a member of the safety committee
b. a safety professional or competent person
c. a trained authorized person
d. formally appointed by the safety manager

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Selecting Respirators

respirator selection

Respirator selection requires correctly matching the respirator with the type and degree of the hazard, and the user. The properly selected respirator must effectively reduce user exposure under all conditions, including reasonably foreseeable emergency escape situations. The program manager should make a respirator available to each employee who is assigned a job that requires respiratory protection.

Proper respirator selection involves choosing a device that will protect the employee from the respiratory hazards to which he or she may be exposed, yet permits the employee to perform the job with the least amount of physical burden.

General Requirements: In choosing the appropriate respirator, you must consider the nature and extent of the hazard, work requirements and conditions, and the characteristics and limitations of the available respirators. Take the following information into account when choosing respirators:

  • the nature of the hazard, and the physical and chemical properties of the air contaminant;
  • concentrations of contaminants;
  • relevant permissible exposure limit or other occupational exposure limit;
  • the nature of the work operation or process;
  • the length of time the respirator is used;
  • work activities and physical/psychological stress;
  • fit testing; and
  • physical characteristics, functional capabilities, and limitations of respirators.

Respirator certification: All respirators selected must be certified by NIOSH and must be used according to the terms of that certification, which appears on the NIOSH certification label. Under certain circumstances, OSHA may permit the use of respirators not approved by NIOSH (i.e., where no NIOSH-approved respirator exists) where documentation exists to attest to the adequacy of the respirator's effectiveness against the contaminant(s) of concern. OSHA will examine those situations on a case-by-case basis.

Replacement: Make replacement respirators, cartridges, canisters, and filters available as required. All filters, cartridges, and canisters must be labeled with the appropriate NIOSH approval label. Do not remove or deface labels while the respirator is in use.

3. Respirator selection requires correctly matching the respirator with the _____.

a. length of exposure with the cartridge
b. nature and duration of exposure and severity
c. type and degree of the hazard, and the user
d. number of employees and workplace location

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Checklist for Respirator Selection

Air-purifying respirators used for protection against particulates are equipped with NIOSH-certified HEPA filters.

Use this checklist during your respiratory protection program audits and inspections:

General Requirements

  • Respiratory hazards in your workplace have been identified and evaluated.
  • Employee exposures that have not been, or cannot be, evaluated must be considered IDLH.
  • Respirators are NIOSH-certified and used under the conditions of certification.
  • Respirators are selected based on the workplace hazards evaluated and workplace and user factors affecting respirator performance and reliability.
  • Respirators are selected based on the APFs and calculated MUCs.
  • Provide a sufficient number of respirator sizes and models for proper selection.

IDLH Atmospheres

  • Full facepiece pressure demand SARs with auxiliary SCBA unit or full facepiece pressure demand SCBAs, with a minimum service life of 30 minutes, are provided.
  • Respirators used for escape only must BE NIOSH-certified for the atmosphere in which they are used.
  • Oxygen deficient atmospheres must be considered IDLH (d)(2)(B)(iii).

Non-IDLH Atmospheres

  • Respirators selected are appropriate for the APFs and MUCs.
  • Respirators selected are appropriate for the chemical nature and physical form of the contaminant.
  • Air-purifying respirators used for protection against gases and vapors are equipped with End-of-Service-Life Indicators (ESLIs) or a change schedule has been implemented. The ESLI is a system that warns the user of the approach of the end of adequate respiratory protection; e.g., the sorbent is approaching saturation or is no longer effective. (See image to right.)
  • Air-purifying respirators used for protection against particulates are equipped with NIOSH-certified (High Efficiency Particulate Air) HEPA filters that are at least 99.97% efficient in removing particles of .3 micrometers in diameter. Equivalent filters (N100, R100, and P100) certified by NIOSH for particulates under Title 42 CFR part 84 may also be used. (See image to right.)

4. Air-purifying respirators used for protection against particulates should be _____.

a. equipped with NIOSH End-of-Life-Indicators (ESLIs)
b. required to use full facepiece with auxillary SCBA units
c. equipped with NIOSH-certified HEPA filters
d. rated for use in IDLH environments

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Respirators for IDLH Atmospheres


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

  • full facepiece pressure demand SCBA certified by NIOSH for a minimum service life of thirty minutes, or
  • a combination of 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 are 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.

Respirators for Non-IDLH Atmospheres

The employer must provide a respirator adequate enough 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 must implement 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.

5. Which of the following respirators is required for employee use in IDLH atmospheres?

a. Any air supplied respirator with NIOSH label
b. A non-demand supplied-air respirator (SAR)
c. A half-face demand air purifying respirator
d. A full facepiece pressure demand SCBA

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Emergency Procedures

3M Respirator Fit Kit Test
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In areas where the wearer could be overcome by a toxic or oxygen-deficient atmosphere if the respirator fails, 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 airline respirators in atmospheres immediately hazardous to life or health (IDLH) 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.

6. In areas where the wearer, with failure of the respirator, could be overcome by a toxic or oxygen-deficient atmosphere, _____.

a. an extra oxygen tank must be immediately available
b. more than one monitor must be close by
c. at least one additional person must be present
d. an air-purifying respirator may replace the respirator

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What OSHA Expects

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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.

OSHA enforcement inspectors will make sure you 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.

7. OSHA enforcement inspectors will make sure employers have a written program that describes how they will _____.

a. enforce strict compliance
b. select appropriate respirators for employees
c. list protective device providers
d. measure HEPA filter levels

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