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The Smartest Tool in the Shed
By Duane Craig
May 6, 2018
Taking OSHA’s number four spot in 2017 for Most Cited Standard is respiratory protection.
While it's often possible to eliminate respiratory dangers in construction by using administrative or engineering controls, there are still times when people need to use respirators. Respiratory hazards include dust, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, and vapors.
OSHA's accident search results pages reveal respiratory damage on the job are not isolated incidents, and people develop their injuries over the long term. For example, consider the case of a 55-year-old man working as a cabinet maker for 15 years who died from respiratory distress. The coroner's report stated his lungs were filled with sawdust and the silica from sandpaper.
Medical Evaluations Haunt Employers
While a respirator might have changed the outcome, there is one OSHA standard that employers consistently overlook when it comes to respirators: providing a medical evaluation to confirm the employee can use one. The evaluation has to happen before you teach the employee how to wear the respirator and require them to use it. This standard, 1910.134(e)(1), was the most cited respiratory protection standard in 2017.
Setting up the medical evaluations for employees requires you to locate a licensed health care professional to administer a questionnaire or complete a medical examination confirming the employee is able to use a respirator. Under certain conditions, the employer might be required to arrange a follow-up medical examination.
It's Tough to Guard What You Didn't Identify
The second most cited respiratory protection section is 1910.134(c)(1). This requires a written respiratory protection program that includes specifics concerning the procedures for using respirators. It applies to any workplace where it's necessary to protect employee health or wherever employees are required to use respirators. Many job sites and construction tasks pose dangers to employee respiratory systems. As the dangers may vary from site to site, it is necessary to have site-specific programs.
The remaining three most cited respiratory protection standards all deal with the way you decide when employees need to use respirators and the options for proper fitting and use. Standard 1910.134(f)(2) requires the employer to ensure a tight-fitting respirator is fit-tested by the employee before first use. Whenever the employee must use a different respirator, another fit test is required. Finally, the employer has to make sure there is an annual fit test.
Employers Have the Control
Standard 1910.134(c)(2)(i) and 1910.134(d)(1)(ii) deal with the types of recommended respirators. While one allows employees to use their own respirators as long as the employer determines they are appropriate and their use won't create hazards, the other one requires the employer to select National Institutes of Health and Safety, NIOSH-certified respirators.
In total, it's up to employers to determine the types of protection workers need and to make sure the protection is adequate and won't create other hazards. Employers also need to ensure that employees understand when to use respirators and how to use them. Then, everyone will be able to breathe more easily.
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