10 Steps to Protect Workers against Airborne Hazards


Respiratory safety involves more than properly wearing and maintaining personal protective equipment (PPE). Follow these steps to evaluate hazards and establish effective procedures to mitigate those hazards.

In facilities where airborne hazards or oxygen deficiencies are present, a worker’s respiratory health must be considered. Each year, about 5 million workers on nearly 1.3 million job sites in the U.S. are required to wear respirators to protect against insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, or sprays, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (1).

Sometimes, the effects of exposure to a hazardous environment are obvious because they are instantaneous. At other times, the hazards may have longer-term effects that adversely impact the worker’s health in years to come. To ensure that workers are better protected from all risks, OSHA’s respiratory protection standard (2) requires that every facility designate a program administrator to develop, enforce, and maintain a written respiratory protection program. These programs help to reduce worker exposure to respiratory hazards as well as keep companies compliant with regulations.

Respiratory protection programs involve the anticipation of myriad potential hazards and the navigation of multiple regulations, so it can be helpful to think of OSHA’s requirements in phases. This 10-step procedure will help you implement a successful respiratory protection program and comply with the OSHA standard for respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134) (2). (Note that this is not a comprehensive analysis of all the issues at play. For more information, see the OSHA standard at www.osha.gov.)

Author Bios: 

Erik W. Johnson

Erik W. Johnson, CIH, CSP, is a technical service specialist with the Personal Safety Div. of 3M Co. (Email: erikwjohnson@mmm.com), where he has worked for the past 25 years. His current responsibilities include product development and stewardship, technical writing, and public speaking. Previously, his focus was technical service for the Asia/Pacific region. Johnson holds a BA in physics from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) with an emphasis in industrial hygiene from the Univ. of Minnesota.
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