Respiratory Protection

A respirator is a device that is designed to protect the wearer from inhaling hazardous atmospheres. Respirators are divided into two broad categories: atmosphere purifying and atmosphere supplying.

Respiratory Protection

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What are the hazards associated with respiratory protection?

Hazards associated with respiratory protection affect the health of the individual and can arise as the result of the type of respirator used, as well as the type of hazardous atmosphere against which they are worn. The use of an air-purifying respirator in an oxygen-deficient or IDLH atmosphere, such as can be found in a permit-required confined space, can result in serious physical harm or even death. Similarly, the use of an atmosphere-supplying respirator connected to a non-respirable type of gas can also yield the same outcome. The use of an air-purifying respirator that is equipped with an incorrect cartridge or canister or which has an APF (assigned protection factor) that is too low for the concentration of air contaminant present can result in acute and chronic illness as the result of overexposure to the air contaminants.

What can I do to protect myself?

Employees working in conditions that require the use of respirators should never use one until they have been medically evaluated to ensure that using a respirator will not be harmful due to an underlying medical condition. When the use of a tight-fitting respirator is approved, be sure to check that all parts function properly and that it is donned correctly. In addition, be sure that the type of respirator chosen will protect against the air contaminants to which you will be exposed.

What resources are available to assist employers?

Safety and Health Programs

Example respiratory protection programs are available which should be customized to fit the conditions and atmospheric hazards to be encountered in the workplace. An example PPE hazard assessment is also available for customization to fit workplace conditions. Employers are required to perform a workplace hazard analysis to determine what personal protective equipment is necessary to protect employees from continued exposure to identified hazards.

Training and Outreach Services

The respiratory protection and personal protective equipment PowerPoint presentations can be modified to meet the employer's needs.

In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. This pre-recorded webinar on  respiratory protection can also be accessed at any time.

Further, federal OSHA has videos available for training employees: respiratory protection training (Short online training videos on respirators in English and Spanish), putting on and taking off respirators (Spanish), higher risk jobs need extra protections to keep workers safe, quick safety tips for assembly lines (Spanish), and quick tips for delivery services (Spanish). Further, the Centers for Disease Control has videos on handwashing (English) (Spanish) and various other videos on COVID-19 (English) (Spanish).

Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).

A-Z Safety and Health Topics

More related information can be found on other A-Z topics pages such as personal protective equipmenthazard communication, leadisocyanateshexavalent chromiumsilica, COVID-19asbestos and HAZWOPER

Consultation Services

The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.

Which standards apply?

OSH has adopted the following standards for respiratory protection in North Carolina. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic. 

General Industry

Maritime, Shipyard Employment


OSH standards that reference the respiratory protection standard include:

General Industry


Other Applicable Standards

Further, the Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can also help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.


Where can I learn more?

Compliance Documents

Fact Sheets/Guidance

Hazard Alerts

Industry Guides

Technical Assistance

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to or by calling 919-707-7876.