The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Respiratory Protection

Graham Marshall - Tuesday, August 09, 2011

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 28,000 workers died as a result of pneumoconiosis between 1999 and 2004.

So, how do you know if a respiratory safety program is required at your workplace?

The first step in determining the required respiratory protection measures in any work place is to perform a hazard identification assessment.

What type of hazardous substance may be present and in what form?

Is the potential hazard a vapour, smoke, mist, spray droplet, dust, metallic fume, or gas?

The general identification of the hazardous substances present in the workplace and their forms may not be too difficult.

Determining the toxicity and measuring employee exposure to the hazards may, however, require specialist expertise and equipment.

In the US, OSHAs Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) provides mandated requirements for respiratory protection programs and the Air Contaminants Standard (CFR 1910.1000) lists legally binding exposure limits for toxic chemicals.

In general terms, once a hazardous substance is identified with the potential to cause respiratory problems, the hierarchy of safety controls provides the best guide to a preferred course of action.

The starting point should always be via attempts to eliminate the potential for atmospheric contamination.  This may involve the elimination of the hazard source or by eliminating the activity which results in air pollution.

The next most preferential method of control is via substitution controls. 

This could include substitution of one hazardous substance for something inherently less toxic or through substitution of a work process that causes air quality problems.

Engineering controls to prevent air contamination may include such controls as the introduction of natural or forced ventilation, air filtration or air extraction methods and air oxidation using catalytic converters.

Administrative controls may include personnel monitoring, frequent health checks and such like.

Assuming that all alternative methods of controls have been considered, implemented or ruled-out as impracticable, then personal protective equipment may be considered.

Further information on NIOSHs respiratory selection guidance is available by clicking here.

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