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.
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
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 equipment, hazard communication, lead, isocyanates, hexavalent chromium, silica, COVID-19, asbestos and HAZWOPER.
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.
29 CFR 1910.134 - respiratory protection
Maritime, Shipyard Employment
29 CFR 1915.154 - respiratory protection
29 CFR 1926.103 - respiratory protection
OSH standards that reference the respiratory protection standard include:
- 29 CFR 1910.94 - ventilation
- 29 CFR 1910.272 - grain handling facilities
- 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Z - toxic and hazardous substances (most of the health standards)
- 29 CFR 1926.55 - ventilation
- 29 CFR 1926.59 - hazard communication
- 29 CFR 1926.60 - methylenedianline
- 29 CFR 1926.62 - lead
- 29 CFR 1926.65 - HAZWOPER
- 29 CFR 1926 Subpart Z - toxic and hazardous substances (most of the health standards)
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?
Field Operations Manual Chapter 15: Industrial Hygiene Compliance provides citation guidance for the respiratory protection standard.
Compliance Directive: CPL 02-00-158, Inspection Procedures for the Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, establishes an enforcement policy and provides an explanation of the standard to ensure uniform enforcement.
Compliance Directive: OPN 127 establishes enforcement policy and provides a clarification regarding the use of respirators for protection against cotton dust for extended workshifts.
Standards Notice: SN 55 provides interpretive guidance regarding the OSH Division enforcement of the use of respirators when facial hair is present.
Standards Notice: SN 63 Requirements for Workers Who Are Actively Conducting Operations in IDLH Atmospheres discusses the requirements for workers conducting operations in atmospheres classified as being immediately dangerous to life and health.
Standards Notice: SN 68 provides interpretive guidance regarding the OSH Division enforcement of voluntary use of non-NIOSH approved respirators.
OSH Fact Sheet: Facemasks vs. Respirators
OSH Hazard Alert: Controlling Exposures to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus
OSH Hazard Alert: Dealing with COVID-19 in Construction
OSH Hazard Alert: Respiratory Protection for Long-Term Care Workers
- Industry Guide 48 - OSHA Construction Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training provides requirements for standards related to respiratory protection in construction.
Industry Guide 49 - OSHA General Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training provides requirements for standards related to respiratory protection in general industry.
Industry Guide 53 - OSHA Shipyard Employment Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training highlights the requirements of standards related to respiratory protection in shipyard employment.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 919-707-7876.