Respirators: To Use or Not?

 In Tip of the Week
It seems that there is some confusion about when to and when not to use respiratory protection.  Just because a chemical or material smells bad, it might not be hazardous.  Just because there is some particulate in the air, it might be uncomfortable, but not be hazardous.  And there are some atmospheric hazards that you can’t smell or detect, but they could be deadly, like carbon monoxide.
The use of a respirator should not be your first line of defense.  The Respiratory Protection regulation (linked to the right), begins with this paragraph:
In the control of those occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors, the primary objective shall be to prevent atmospheric contamination.  This shall be accomplished as far as feasible by accepted engineering control measures (for example, enclosure or confinement of the operation, general and local ventilation, and substitution of less toxic materials).  When effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted, appropriate respirators shall be used pursuant to this section.  (emphasis added)
One of the first questions that the SCM team asks when working with a client that has a respiratory protection program is, “How do you know that you have an atmospheric hazard?”  Some people assume that because it smells bad or makes you sneeze that it is harmful.  However, SCM frequently recommends that our clients find out whether they actually have a hazard before they implement an OSHA compliant Respiratory Protection Program. This can be accomplished through monitoring or testing the air.
Speaking of OSHA, the regulation states that the primary objective when there are potential respiratory or atmospheric hazards is to prevent contamination.  OSHA states that engineering controls should be used.  SCM recommends following the Hierarchy of Controls that is offered by ANSI, which starts with elimination of the problem. As an example, one of SCM’s clients achieved this.  They had a valve which needed to be turned occasionally.  The valve was located inside a confined space.  They eliminated the need to don respirators and enter the confined space by moving the valve outside the space.
The next level on the ANSI Hierarchy of Controls is substitution.  We often substitute lesser hazards for more hazardous materials in our daily lives without thinking about it.  Have you purchased a cleaner or other product that advertises it is less harmful to the environment than another that may be more hazardous?  In doing so, you are using the control of substitution.
Engineering controls are often used in processes and areas where hazardous materials might be present. A construction crew that is drilling into or sawing cement uses an engineering control when they have a vacuum system with a HEPA filter on their equipment.  This prevents the operator from being exposed to Silica.  Or a laboratory using some chemicals that has a ventilation system vented to an outside location is providing an engineering control for their lab techs.
We could go on, but the point is that just because a particular material or process makes someone uncomfortable, or does not smell good, that does not necessarily mean that a Respiratory Protection Program needs to be implemented, or that respirators are required.  Do your research.  First, find out if there is a hazard.  When you confirm that there is a hazard, find ways to prevent contamination through the use of controls, rather than default to using a respirator.  Respirators should always be your last line of protection.
If you do have a Respiratory Protection Program, and would like to have effective and economical training, the Hazmatschool Respiratory Protection online training is linked to the right.
SCM Highlights
2019 Calendar of classes is now on the SCM Website.  Start with this link and scroll forward to find the training you need.
A new 40 hour HAZWOPER training class has been added to the calendar for the week of January 14th. Sign up here.
You can register online through the links provided, or call our office at 925-362-2265.
Did you know that we offer training in Spanish at  Silica, Asbestos and DOT training!  Check it out and
Do you need your annual Respiratory Protection Training?  Sign up for an online class here.  Only $25 per person!
We offer discounts and group rates.  To see more about our offers, follow this link: Discounts
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