Protective Equipment: Optimum safety is in the details

Posted By John Paraskevas || 30-Jul-2015

John ParaskevasWhen it comes to personal protective equipment, and in particular respiratory protection equipment, certain requirements must be met for it to do its job of guarding its wearer from injury or illness. The OSHA standard requires employers to:

  • Evaluate the hazards of the worksite including airborne exposure;
  • Develop work-site specific procedures to address each of the hazards identified;
  • Train employees of the hazards and methods to protect employee of the hazards;
  • And, then document all of this with a written program explaining each of the previous steps.
A written program specific to a respiratory program would document the responsibilities of the assigned program administrator, supervisor(s), employee(s) and medical provider. The worksite hazard evaluation and subsequent selection of respiratory protection should assure that the wearer gets sufficient oxygen and does not inhale noxious sprays, fumes, chemical vapors, and so on. How do you know if you need to use a respirator? The first place to start in the worksite evaluation is reviewing the chemical’s Safety Data Sheet. Permissible Exposure Limits, Threshold Limit Values along with Personal Protection Equipment recommendations will be described in the SDS. Check with your safety manager or supplier for chemical specific guidance.

Additional evaluation of the worksite and, in particular the air flow and exchanges, is also critical to determining the proper respiratory protection. For example, in a field application, a half-face, air purifying respirator with an organic vapor/ acid gas plus particulate prefilter may be suitable for spraying in outdoor operation with sufficient air movement. Consequently, an indoor application with minimal air movement may require a supplied air respirator. In any cases, an IDLH atmosphere, immediately dangerous to life and health, would require a supplied air respirator. This includes an oxygen deficient atmosphere.

Additional respiratory protection program elements includes:
• Getting a medical evaluation for every employee required to use a respirator. This must be done by a licensed health care professional (LHCP) prior to respirator use. It would be useful to inform the LHCP of the work environment in which it will be used to account for any physical extremes. Check with your medical provider for new hire physicals or Occupational Clinic. Several of these services including the physical, medical evaluation, and fit-testing can be combined into one visit and program.
• Conducting, or arranging for, fit testing of each type of respirator an employee is required to use. This will be repeated at least annually and whenever there's a change in the employee's physical condition that could affect the respirator fit.
• Once trained, employees are responsible for the care of the respirators including cleaning, disinfecting, and storage in an area that will protect them from damage, contamination, and the other environmental elements.
• All of the above elements would need to be documented in a written program and employees trained on each of the elements annually.

By far, the most cited violation of the respiratory standard is the lack of a written program closely followed by lack of documentation for medical evaluation and fit testing. There are several sources including OSHA, equipment suppliers, and trade associations where one can find general, boilerplate programs where you can add specific company information, equipment type, filter change-out schedules, and procedures. At the end of the day, the goal is simple, keep everybody breathing easier.

To learn more about the information in this article, contact John Paraskevas at john.paraskevas@demilec.com.

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