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Cal/OSHA Respiratory Protection Requirements

Cal/OSHA's requirements for workplace respiratory protection can be found in Section 5144 of the California Code of Regulations General Industry Safety Orders. There are multiple parts to the requirement, and employers should make sure they are compliant with the entire standard. Safewest can assist with all required elements of your respiratory protection program. If you need help, or just want a few questions answered, contact us for a free consultation.

Remember, you can't adequately protect employees unless you know what to protect them against, and how serious the potential exposure is. For this reason, a hazard assessment should be the first step before starting a respiratory protection program. You should determine what sort of respiratory hazards exist in the workplace. You have to consider not only the types of dangerous substances they might be exposed to, but also the concentration of these substances. Always start by seeing if you can eliminate the need for respirator use by controlling the hazard some other way (like using a safer chemical, implementing engineering controls, or changing the way the employees do the job). If not, then your next step is to develop an appropriate workplace respirator program. This short guide explains the basics of air purifying respirator use in the workplace; always refer to the full OSHA standard when developing your program.

Administrative Program
Why: Without a formal plan, you cannot effectively implement and run a safety program. A written injury and illness prevention sets safety goals and details how they will be accomplished.

Your written program should summarize the results of your hazard assessment, and how respirators will be used in your workplace to keep employees safe. It should specify which positions or tasks require respirator use, what types of NIOSH-approved respirators are to be used, and how your company will provide required medical evaluations, fit testing and training for your employees. The program should also implement procedures for respirator use and maintenance, ongoing program evaluation, and who is in charge of overseeing the respirator program. 

Cal/OSHA §5144(c): "...develop and implement a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures and elements for required respirator use. The program must be administered by a suitably trained program administrator."

Cal/OSHA §5144(f): "...provide for the cleaning and disinfecting, storage, inspection, and repair of respirators used by employees."

Cal/OSHA §5144(g): "...establish and implement procedures for the proper use of respirators..." 

Medical Evaluation
Why: Respirator use puts greater stress on the worker's body, especially the heart and lungs. A medical evaluation helps rule out any serious health problems that could be worsened by respirator use.

Before wearing a respirator at work, employees are required to complete a health history questionnaire, which should be evaluated by a healthcare provider, who will give their approval for that employee to wear a respirator. Most employees will be approved right away, while others may need to provide additional information to the healthcare provider, have a more detailed evaluation, or have limitations on respirator use. Some companies will also require employees to have a physical evaluation, or a pulmonary function test. 

Cal/OSHA §5144(e): "The employer shall provide a medical evaluation to determine the employee's ability to use a respirator, before the employee is fit tested or required to use the respirator in the workplace."

Employee Training
Why: Workers need to know how the respirator works, how to use it correctly in the workplace and problems to watch out for.  

At least once a year, employees should receive training on the capabilities and the limitations of the respirator, what tasks they should use the respirator for, how to inspect, put on, remove, and use the mask, procedures for maintenance and storage, recognition of the medical signs and the symptoms that may limit or prevent an employee’s effective use of a respirator and the general requirements of the OSHA standard.

Cal/OSHA §5144(k): "...provide effective training to employees who are required to use respirators. The training must be comprehensive, understandable, and recur annually, and more often if necessary."

Fit Testing
Why: Every person's body is different, and employees need to make sure they are wearing a respirator that makes an adequate seal to their face.

At least once a year, employees should be fit tested to identify the specific make, model, style, and size of the respirator that is best suited for each employee, and check for problems with respirator condition, use, and donning procedure. There are different fit test methods required depending on the mask type and workplace contaminants. 

Cal/OSHA §5144(f): "...before an employee may be required to use any respirator with a negative or positive pressure tight-fitting facepiece, the employee must be fit tested with the same make, model, style, and size of respirator that will be used."

There are a lot of details that go into the development of an effective respiratory protection program, but the four program elements described above form the core of an OSHA-compliant workplace respirator program. 
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