February 2009 Safety Tip

Gasps the site supervisor as he is entering into the sewer opening to check on his co-worker who had become quiet less then two minutes after entering the manhole. As the supervisor begins to black out from lack of oxygen in the atmosphere, he thinks to himself, "I should be wearing my RESPIRATOR!"

Often we work under conditions that we think and feel are "normal" conditions. When monitored and depending on the type of work we are doing, these conditions could be determined to be hazardous to our lungs because of a lack of oxygen, harmful dust, fogs, smokes, mists, fumes, gases, vapors, or sprays. Many substances we think are safe have been determined, when over exposed, to can cause cancer, lung impairment, other diseases, or even death.

Respirators are forms of personal protection equipment (PPE) and can prevent the entry of harmful substances into our lungs during breathing. There are many types of respirators from Dust Masks that fit over our mouths to prevent entry of contaminants to Full Face Masks - air purifying respirators - and even some respirators that provide a separate supply of breathable air so work can be performed when there is inadequate oxygen or where greater protection is needed such as a Full Body Supplied Air Respirator, or a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus. (See Types of Respirators).

Dust Mask
Half Face Respirator
Full Face Respirator

Full Body Respirator

Self Contained Breathing Apparatus

In the workplace, when effective engineering controls (designing and manufacturing out the problem) are not feasible, and when administrative controls (work shift changes, more breaks, etc.) cannot be implemented, it may be necessary for employees to wear a respirator to provide protection from an identified hazard.

Where respirators are necessary for health protection, specific safety procedures must be observed to ensure the safety of each user; this is the beginning of a Respirator Program. As user's, we must be aware that respirators have their limitations and are not a substitute for effective engineering controls.

Employers are responsible for establishing an effective Respiratory Program - different hazards require different respirators (see types of respirators) and specific operating procedures for each type of respirator. Employees are responsible for wearing the respirator and complying with the program. OSHA compliance information can be found on its web page. Additionally, Maricopa County has adopted by reference in its Administrative Policy A-2207, Appendix A all of OSHA's compliance requirements.

An effective Respirator Program should include:

  • Written Standard Operating Procedures
  • Program evaluation
  • Respirator selection
  • Training
  • Medical evaluation
  • Fit testing procedure
  • Inspection, cleaning, maintenance & storage
  • Work area surveillance
  • Air quality standards
  • Approved respirators for type of hazard

It is important to know of air quality hazards in our workplace and proper environmental controls should be implemented when possible to prevent air quality hazards. When it has been determined that respirators are necessary, a Respiratory Program must be implemented before a respirator can be used.

Before wearing any type of respirator, always check with your supervisor for specific information for the use of respirators in your area.

A respirator can prevent harmful effects and save your life in many hazardous air quality situations!

More information can be found at OHSA's Respiratory Protection web page or within the County's A2207 Policy.

Maricopa County employees can contact the Safety Office at 602-506-8601 for more information. Other readers with questions concerning worker training should contact their OSHA regional (Region 9 for Arizona) or area office (may be a State office (ADOSH in Arizona)) for more information.
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