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 program is 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 presentations are available to assist employers with their training needs. This pre-recorded webinar on  respiratory protection can also be accessed at any time.

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. 

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).

Safety and Health Topics

More related information can be found on other safety and health topic pages such as personal protective equipmenthazard communication, chemical hazards and toxic substances, ventilation 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

Maritime, Marine Terminals


OSH standards that reference the respiratory protection standard include:

General Industry


Maritime, Marine Terminals

29 CFR 1917.1(a)(2)(xii) - toxic and hazardous substances

Maritime, Shipyard Employment

29 CFR 1915 Subpart Z - toxic and hazardous substances

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

Industry Guides

Technical Assistance

Inquiries about workplace safety and health requirements can be submitted to Ask OSH through the online form, by email to, or by phone at 919-707-7876.