For the sixth consecutive year, the Respiratory Protection Standard 1910.134, ranked 4th on the OSHA’s top 10 violations list. According to OSHA, approximately 1.3 million U.S workplaces fall within the respiratory compliance standard which affects about 5 million workers. Approximately, 12.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Of these diagnoses, it is estimated that 381,000 to 762,000 diagnoses can be traced back to prolonged exposure to workplace carcinogens. When engineering or administrative controls are not feasible, respirators are the last line of defense against airborne hazards.
The Top 5 OSHA, Respiratory Protection Violations are:
- Medical Evaluation, Section 1910.134 (e)(1), “the medical evaluation must be provided before the employee is fit tested and uses the respirator in your workplace for the first time” Older employees or employees that have lung disease, emphysema, or asthma may have difficulty breathing while wearing a respirator. Additionally, respirators can impair vision and/or trigger claustrophobia.
- Respiratory Protection Program, Section 1910.134 (c)(1), “employers must develop a written protection plan when respirators are necessary to protect the health of employees within the workplace.” The supervisor that implements these policies must be properly trained. A compliant plan includes worksite specific procedures, such as selecting the proper respirator, medical evaluations; fit testing cleaning and storing and training the employees in potential hazards and proper respirator use.
- Respiratory Fit Testing, Section 1910.134 (f)(2), “the employer shall ensure than an employee using tight-fitting facepiece respirator is fit tested prior to initial use of the respirator, whenever a different respirator facepiece (size, style, model or make) is used, and at least annually thereafter”. A common misconception is that respirator fit test is only required upon hire. However, fit testing must be performed at least annually. If employees have any physical changes such as: weight gain or loss, increase in facial hair, dental changes, cosmetic surgery or facial scarring additional fit tests must be performed.
- Establishing a Respiratory Program, Section 1910.134 (c)(2)(i) requires that the employer provide proper respirator use information and implements a written respiratory program. The program must include information that helps the employee determine whether or not he/she is healthy enough to use the respirator, that they have an understanding as to why a respirator is necessary, what its limitations are, how improper fit can affect the performance, how to inspect, put on and remove, maintain and store the respirator.
- Hazard Evaluation, Section 1910.134 (d)(1)(iii), “The employer shall identify and evaluate the respiratory hazard(s) in the workplace; this evaluation shall 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 shall consider the atmosphere to be IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health)”. In order to select the proper NIOSH-certified respirator, employers must assess the respiratory hazards and determine their contamination level. Know your OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL’s) for each substance in your workplace. Inaccurate job site evaluations may lead to incorrect respirators. This could potentially expose employees to chemical hazards and toxic substances.