Respiratory protection is used to protect workers from the effects of toxic, corrosive, or irritant vapors; and gases, dusts, mists, fumes, and fibers when engineering controls are not adequate or feasible. Respirators used can range from sample disposable dust masks to more complex supplied air respirators.
The respirator standard applies to all occupational airborne exposures to contaminated air where the employee is:
- Exposed to a hazardous level of an airborne contaminant; or
- Required by the employer to wear respirators; or
- Permitted to wear respirators.
Four major duties are imposed by each of these standards. These duties are:
- Use engineering controls where feasible to control the hazard.
- Provide an appropriate respirator.
- Ensure the use of an appropriate respirator.
- Institute a respiratory protection program that complies with the rest of the standard.
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When should a respirator be used?
Workers should use respirators for protection from contaminants in the air only if other hazard control methods are not practical or possible under the circumstances. Respirators should not be the first choice for respiratory protection in workplaces. They should only be used:
when following the "hierarchy of control" is not possible (elimination, substitution, engineering or administrative controls)
while engineering controls are being installed or repaired
when emergencies or other temporary situations arise (e.g., maintenance operations)
What are the different types of cartridges and filters?
Equally important is the selection of the correct type of cartridge or filter.
Filters are made of material that is designed to trap particles as you breathe. Cartridges contain a material that absorbs gases and vapours. It is very important to make sure you are using the right filter or cartridge for the chemicals or substances present in the workplace.
How should you control respiratory hazards?
Respiratory hazards can include airborne contaminants such as biological contaminants, dusts, mists, fumes, and gases, or oxygen-deficient atmospheres. Note that more than one respiratory hazard can be present at the same time. After elimination and substitution, well designed and maintained engineering controls are the preferred methods of controlling worker exposure to hazardous contaminants in the air. These control methods include:
- mechanical ventilation
- enclosure or isolation of the process or work equipment
- proper control and use of process equipment, and
- process modifications including substitution of less hazardous materials where possible.
- Administrative controls may be used in addition to engineering controls.
Administrative controls limit workers' exposures by scheduling reduced work times in contaminant areas or by implementing other such work rules. These control measures have many limitations because the hazard is not removed.
What are IDLH considerations
Some types of atmospheres contain concentrations of hazardous substances that places the worker in immediate danger because these concentrations would impair the ability to leave the work area (self rescue) or potentially cause irreversible health effects, including serious injury or death in a matter of minutes.
There are particular conditions that are considered "Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH)". These include:
- A known contaminant at a concentration known to be IDLH
- A known contaminant at an unknown concentration with the potential to be IDLH
- An unknown contaminant at an unknown concentration
- An untested confined space
- An oxygen-deficient atmosphere
- Contaminants at or above 20% of their lower explosive limit (LEL—the concentration at which the gas or vapour could ignite)