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Effective Respiratory Protection Program

Employee Training and Information

One of the key elements in an effective respiratory protection program is employee training. Before employees use a respirator in the workplace, they must receive effective training that covers the purpose, proper use and limitations of respirators used in the workplace. For the training to be effective, it must be comprehensive and presented in a way that employees can understand. In particular, the training should be based upon the employees’ educational level and language. In discussing why the respirator is necessary, the training should also address the identification of the hazards involved. This must also include the extent of employee exposure to those hazards and the potential health effects of such exposures.

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Information regarding the consequences of improper fit, usage or maintenance on respirator effectiveness must also be provided to employees. Inadequate attention to any of these program elements would obviously defeat the effectiveness of the respirator. Proper fit, use and maintenance of respirators are critical to employee protection. Employees must also be provided with an explanation about the amount of protection that the respirators can provide, as well as the limitations of this equipment. Such a discussion should include an explanation about the manner in which the respirator works and how it protects the worker, that is, whether it filters particles, removes vapors or gases from ambient air or supplies clean uncontaminated air for breathing. Where appropriate it should also include limitations on the use of the respirator, such as an explanation about why an air-purifying respirator cannot be used in an IDLH atmosphere. Employees must know how to use respirators in emergencies, especially those in which the respirator malfunctions.

Comprehensive training is necessary where respirators are used in IDLH conditions, including oxygen-deficient atmospheres such as those that occur in fire fighting, rescue operations and confined space entry. Training must include the procedures about how to inspect the respirator; properly don and remove it; check the fit and respirator seal; and actually wear the respirator. Employees must also be capable of recognizing any problems that may threaten the continued protection provided by the respirator.

The training must include the steps employees are to follow if they discover any problems during the inspection, that is, who to report the problems to and where they can obtain replacement equipment if necessary. Instructions must be given to respirator users regarding the proper procedures for maintaining and storing respirators. The extent of this training will vary according to workplace conditions. Where employees are responsible for performing some or all respirator maintenance and for storing respirators when not in use, detailed training in maintenance and storage procedures may be necessary.

On other facilities where specific personnel or central repair facilities are assigned to perform these tasks, most employees may only need information about the maintenance and storage procedures without being required to learn detailed technical information. The training program must also provide employees with sufficient medical information to permit them to recognize the signs and symptoms of any medical conditions that may limit or prevent respirator use.

Examples of such medical conditions include shortness of breath and dizziness. Training must also include the general requirements of the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.134. This discussion could simply inform employees of the employer’s obligations under the standard to develop and implement a written program, properly select respirators, evaluate respirator use and correct deficiencies, conduct medical evaluations, provide for the proper maintenance, cleaning and storage of respirators, and retain and provide access to specific records. Training is required for respirator users prior to the first use of a respirator in the workplace and at least annually thereafter.

During the annual training, the employee must be able to demonstrate knowledge of the various aspects of respirator use including the capabilities and limitations of the respirator, how to properly put on and remove the respirator, and the other key elements of the respirator program. Additional training is required when changes in workplace conditions occur or the type of respirator worn render previous training obsolete. Examples of some workplace conditions that might affect respirator use include process changes, increased levels of exposure, and the emergency of new hazards for which the current respirator may not be effective. Additional training might also be necessary when the use of a respirator by an employee indicates a need for retraining.

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