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Respiratory Safety: Keys to Protect Your Employees


Respiratory illness can be serious and, in some cases, deadly. In today’s workforce, many workers are not properly protected and are at risk for respiratory illness.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about five million American workers are required to wear respirators to protect against hazards such as insufficient oxygen, harmful dust, fog, smoke, mist, gases, vapours and sprays. These hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment, disease or death. It is imperative for you to provide the proper equipment, training and programs to protect your employees.

Below are some steps you can take to protect your employees and ensure their safety.

Provide the proper respiratory protection

The most common type of respiratory protection is respirators, which cover the nose, mouth or face to guard workers against hazardous atmospheres. Respirators protect the user in two different ways: air purifying and atmosphere supplying.

Air purifying
These types of respirators have filters, cartridges, canisters or a combination of filters that pass ambient air through the air-purifying element before it reaches the user. There are three types of air-purifying respirators:

1) Particulate:
Used to capture particles in the air such as dust, mist and fumes. These respirators do not protect against gases or vapours and generally become more effective as particles accumulate on the filter. To ensure they are working properly, the filter should be replaced if the user finds it difficult to breathe. These are also referred to as disposable respirators.

2) Gas and vapour:
Normally used when there are only hazardous gases and vapours in the air. These respirators use chemical cartridges or canisters to remove gases, but do not protect against airborne particles.

3) Combination
Used in atmospheres that contain both particulate and gas and vapour hazards.

Atmosphere supplying
The second category of respirators supplies clean breathing air from another source. There are three types of atmosphere-supplying respirators:

1) Air-supplied (airline)
Airlines deliver clean, breathable air from an uncontaminated source. They provide clean air for long periods of time and are lightweight. These respirators are usually used when there are extended work periods required in atmospheres that are not immediately dangerous to life and health.

2) Combination
Combination respirators have an auxiliary self-contained air supply that can be used if the primary supply fails and is generally small, since it only needs to supply enough air for escape. These can be used for entry into confined spaces and are used when there are extended work periods required in an atmosphere that may be immediately dangerous to life and health.

3) Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
These consist of a wearable, clean air-supply pack that does not restrict movement and provides air for up to four hours. SCBAs are normally used when there is a short time needed to enter and escape from atmosphere that may be immediately dangerous to life and health.

Respiratory training programs

Employees must be trained before they can use a respirator or assigned working with different respiratory hazards. Requirements include teaching employees:

— Why a respirator is necessary in the workplace;
— How to place and remove the respirator from the face;
— Proper use of the device;
— What to do in emergency situations when respirators do not work; and
— How to check the seal.

Employers must also create a respiratory protection program that meets the requirements of their local jurisdictions. Training must be worksite-specific and easily understood by the employees. Information must be provided on the following topics:

— Fit testing and the dangers of improper fit;
— Procedure and schedule for cleaning and inspecting devices;
— Medical evaluation of employees;
— Air-quality standards; and
— Recognizing medical symptoms that could prevent use of the respirator.

Have a safe day!

Julie Copeland is the CEO of Arbill in Philadelphia. Arbill has been a leader in personal protective equipment and workplace safety training since 1945.