Air-purifying and atmosphere-supplying respirators each have their own applications and limitations. The former, for instance, is best used on a short-term basis, while the latter can be worn for extended periods of time. In either case, the respirator must fit properly and “must not impair the worker’s ability to see, hear, communicate, and move as necessary to perform the job safely.”
Additionally, every worker who wears a respirator must undergo a detailed medical evaluation by a physician or other licensed health care professional. Some workers may require follow-up evaluations based on their initial results, after reporting new symptoms, when working conditions change, or under other circumstances.
For more information about the different types of respirators, watch this video from OSHA. For more information about medical evaluations, read OSHA’s respirator standards.
2. Replace Respirators/Cartridges Before the End of Their Service Lives
You can’t use the same equipment indefinitely. Many respirators are equipped with end-of-service-life indicators (ESLIs) certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. An ESLI tells you how long a cartridge or respirator can be exposed to certain contaminants before it needs to be replaced. Be sure to replace any cartridges or respirators before they expire.
If a respirator does not have a NIOSH-supplied ESLI, it’s your responsibility to implement “a change schedule for canisters and cartridges that is based on objective information or data that will ensure that canisters and cartridges are changed before the end of their service life.” You can do this by conducting experimental tests, using a math model, or going with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Each approach has its pros and cons. Whatever method you choose, you’ll need to be able to explain your change-out schedule, what data you’re using, and why you rely on that data.
For more information and guidance, see OSHA’s Respirator Change Schedules eTool.
3. Document Everything
In addition to your change-out schedule, you will need to document and maintain records on all respirators, fit tests, and workers’ medical evaluations. This information must be complete, up-to-date, and readily available.