OHS Canada Magazine

Q&A with Candace Sellar of CSA Group: Navigating the world of respiratory protection

Avatar photo

February 28, 2024
By OHS Canada

Photo: Getty Images

There are several different types of respiratory hazards that might be encountered in the workplace—and for many, they are a part of everyday job function. While COVID-19 and the 2003 SARS outbreak both highlighted the need for proper respiratory protection, there are always concerns about occupational diseases—many of which can be linked to improper respiratory protection. As the field of respiratory protection continues to evolve, it is crucial for employers to identify potential respiratory hazards and establish the necessary safeguards for employee safety.

CSA Group’s Candace Sellar offers insights into the actions employers can take to help improve respiratory safety, and shares details on CSA Group’s relevant Occupational Health and Safety standards, including an opportunity for readers to contribute to an upcoming update to a respiratory protection standard.

What are the different types of respiratory hazards that workers may encounter, and how does proper protection vary based on these hazards?

Respiratory hazards are as varied as the workplaces that they can be found in, and more than one hazard can be present at a time. However, in general, respiratory hazards include oxygen deficient atmospheres; particulate rich environments (e.g. silica, asbestos, fumes); workplaces where gases and vapours can be encountered; and biological contaminants (e.g. viruses, bacteria).

The different types and combinations of respiratory hazards will ultimately inform what protection is required. CSA Group has three standards that can assist in respiratory protection:

CSA Z94.4.1:21, Performance of filtering respirators is a National Standard of Canada that specifies performance and testing requirements for filtering type respirators, including fit, air flow resistance and breathability, fluid and flammability resistance, and shelf life.


CAN/CSA-Z94.4-18, Selection, use, and care of respirators sets out requirements for the selection, use, and care of respirators and for the administration of an effective respiratory protection program in the workplace. A new edition of this standard has been drafted and is currently available for public review until mid-March. Any member of the public can provide input on this standard by visiting the CSA Group Public Review website and reviewing the draft standard under the OHS page. All comments submitted through public review will be considered by the CSA Group Technical Committee. The new edition of the standard will be available in late summer 2024.

CAN/CGSB/CSA-Z1610-11 (R2021), Protection of first responders from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) events provides risk-based guidance to first responders on how to operate in a CBRN event.

How has the landscape of respiratory protection evolved since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?

There has been increased focus on the health care sector, and specifically the use of filtering respirators to protect workers from bioaerosols.

There has also been discussion on designing more equitable PPE to better fit faces of different shapes and sizes, including those of women and bearded workers.

A significant amount of research has also been conducted on the material science side of things–exploring new materials that are more eco-friendly and considering circular economy principles (e.g., eliminating waste) in the design, while maintaining technical performance standards.

What goes into updating and enhancing respiratory protection standards?

CSA Group standards are evidence-informed and are created and updated through our Standards Council of Canada accredited standards development process. All updates involve a significant amount of research, consultation, and discussion by top experts in Canada. Where questions arise, new research opportunities are identified.

A new edition of CSA Z94.4, Selection, use, and care of respirators is currently under development and available for public review. Some of the significant enhancements to the new edition include updated control banding methodology to select respirators for bioaerosols; updated fit testing protocols and exercises; and guidance on how employers can remove barriers for respirator users and accommodate workers for a variety of reasons, including gender, religion/culture, and comfort.

How can organizations assess the specific respiratory protection needs of their workforce and tailor programs accordingly?

Tailoring respiratory protection measures to specific workforce needs requires a comprehensive understanding of the workplace environment and potential hazards. With the goal of continuous improvement, regular reviews and adjustments should be made by all organizations to improve the ongoing effectiveness of their programs.

CSA Z94.4 provides requirements, recommendations, and guidance on the preparation and implementation of a respiratory protection program, including essential program components such as defining roles and responsibilities, conducting a hazard assessment, respirator selection, training, and health surveillance.

There are some useful tools online to help you navigate the different types of respirators. For example, CSA Group offers a free online tool for the selection of respirators for the protection from bioaerosols. This tool is to be used in conjunction with CSA Z94.4.

Readers are also encouraged to explore the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s webpage on respirator selection. It provides answers to key questions, such as when a respirator should be used, what are the different classes of respirators, and how to select the right one.

What benefits and impact on safety can organizations expect to see when they adopt standards for respiratory protection?

Adopting and implementing respiratory protection standards is a proactive approach that can contribute to ensuring worker safety, and worker confidence and buy-in to organizational respiratory protection programs, thereby contributing to the long-term success and sustainability of an organization. However, it is important to note that PPE, such as respiratory protection, is considered the last line of defense in the hierarchy of controls. Other avenues such as elimination, substitution, administrative and/or engineering controls should be considered and implemented first. When all else fails, then respiratory protection should be considered. Standards such as CSA Z94.4 provide organizations with equal access to knowledge from many of the top experts in this field on best requirements, recommendations, and guidance that is evidence-informed and reflective of leading practices – not just in Canada, but throughout the world.

CSA Group is a global organization dedicated to safety, social good and sustainability. It is a leader in standards development and in testing, inspection and certification around the world, including Canada, the U.S.A., Europe and Asia. CSA Group’s mandate is to hold the future to a higher standard.


Stories continue below