The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard requires training and medical evaluation for individuals who intend to wear respiratory protection. Medical approval to wear respiratory protection is required before training and fit-testing can occur.
Inhalation of hazardous substances is one of the main methods by which substances enter the body and respiratory tract. If an individual is exposed to an airborne concentration of a chemical or hazardous substance, over a long duration, adverse health risks increase which may lead to injury or death.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set maximum exposure standards for many airborne toxic materials. Environmental Health Services (EHS) at Colorado State University can assist in determining whether an employee’s exposure to hazardous substances/chemicals (gases, vapors, mists, fumes, and/or particulates, etc) with which he or she works will surpass the given standard and lead to adverse health effects.
If the permissible exposure limit is exceeded, the exposure must then be reduced to acceptable levels through the use of engineering and/or administrative controls.
Engineering controls include but are not limited to the following:
- substitution with a less toxic material
- change in process to minimize contact with hazardous chemicals
- isolation or enclosure of a process or work operation
- wet methods to reduce the generation of dust, when applicable
- general dilution ventilation
- local exhaust, including the use of chemical fume hoods or other types of specialized ventilation systems
Administrative controls include employee training, use of standard operating procedures, and work scheduling to minimize the length of exposure.
Respirators and other personal protective equipment (PPE) may be used where engineering controls are not feasible or cannot reduce exposure to acceptable levels, or while engineering controls are being installed. The need for a respirator is dependent upon the type of operations and the nature and quantity of the materials in use and must be assessed on a case by case basis.
The use of respirators of any kind should be considered a last resort. EHS will work along with the department to find engineering controls and other alternative methods to reduce the exposure as much as possible before respiratory protection is recommended.