New proposal from OSHA on respirators

Respirators are needed in many industries.

Respirators are needed in many industries.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In a press release, the safety agency stated it was introducing two quantitative fit-testing protocols to the current Respiratory Protection Standard.

If the changes are finalized, the protocols would stand to impact the construction, shipyard and general industries.

Currently, the standard mandates that employers must follow fit-testing methods to ensure equipment properly fits and protects the individual wearing it. While individuals are allowed to submit new testing methods, they must be approved by OSHA.

By introducing the proposed rule, OSHA believes it will enable greater flexibility for employers to choose fit-testing methods. As long as current methods meet existing standards, employers and workers will not have to update or replace those procedures. Furthermore, there are no additional costs for either public or private companies.

Because OSHA submitted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the public is allowed to submit comments. The agency is asking for opinions on the reliability and accuracy of the proposed rules. Additionally, those affected are encouraged to talk about how well the new testing methods may detect respirator leakage. Employers want to make sure workers are outfitted with gear that will protect them from airborne contaminants.

Comments can be submitted until Dec. 6, 2016.

Man wearing respirator.OSHA has proposed a rule change.

Respiratory protection

No matter the industry, respiratory protection equipment plays an important role for employees on the job. Respirators help guard against smoke, mists, harmful dusts, gases and vapors, and also help when there is insufficient oxygen. Without the equipment, individuals may develop lung disease, cancer or worse.

According to OSHA, approximately 5 million workers in the U.S. are required to wear respirators at the 1.3 million worksites around the country.

Respirators come in two categories. The first is known as particulate. These pieces of equipment filter out particles from the air.

The second type is essentially a gas mask, which is designed to protect the wearer from harmful gases and chemicals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that respirators should only be used when engineering controls are not viable.

The testing standard and the proposed rule changes could arguably come into play when organizations are looking to incorporate secondhand respirators. But because of the regulations, companies have to ensure these pieces of equipment meet requirements set forth by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Companies and employees have to ensure the respirators on hand meet OSHA standards. This is where the testing method comes into play.

Enforcement of respiratory compliance

Companies are frequently cited for not complying with the Respiratory Protection Standard. In fact, it’s one of the 10 most cited standards following an OSHA safety inspection.

It will be at least a few months until a finalized rule is released to the public. Until then, companies and employees are encouraged to submit their thoughts to ensure OSHA takes all angles of the proposed rule into account.