Validate Your Respirator Program | Your Safety Department

Respirator Fit Testing also Requires Training | Your Safety Department

Respirator safety training is essential for any employee, supervisor or manager who is required to wear (or supervise the wearing of) respirators in the work place. These individuals need to know how to properly use the respiratory protection devices they possess and be properly instructed by competent persons on their selection, use, and maintenance. There is nothing more dangerous for an individual than to be provided with equipment that he or she does not know how to use, what the limitations are, or when and when not to use the device.

Case study - many years ago I worked as a tankerman loading chemical barges on the Mississippi river. I happened to be assigned to relieve another tankerman who had been working some long hours on a barge loading toluene. It was in the winter and the tankerman was wearing a parka that created an area in front of his face that trapped the toluene vapors. Back in those days we did open top loading rather than through a vapor recovery system and in this case there were toluene vapors being formed outside the tank. Toluene vapor is substantially heavier than air and it dissipated pretty low around the tanks. When the tankerman bent over to check on the quantity being loaded into the tanks he eventually became over-come by the toluene vapors.

I arrived on the deck of the barge at the same moment that he indicated how the toluene vapors were affecting him at which time he collapsed at my feet. He lived but, it was a harrowing 45-60 minute recovery and an overnight stay at the hospital.

This just didn't have to happen and while others might blame our youthfulness at the time, how much of this could have been avoided by some decent respiratory safety training. This wasn't just one man's life but the lives of others that were being impacted - the lives of his wife and children, the impact that this incident could have caused on our ability to retain work, and possibly a fatality.

With that being said - are you providing appropriate respiratory protection training to your employees? At a minimum your Respiratory Safety Training Program should include these 7 elements:

  1. Safety training should provide the methods used for recognizing respiratory hazards including the need for respirator fit testing.

  2. Safety training should provide some instruction in the hazards identified and an honest assessment of what could happen if the proper respiratory protection devices are not used.

  3. An explanation as to why other safety controls are not immediately feasible (i.e. such as vapor recovery systems). The explanation should also include recognition that every reasonable effort is being made to reduce or eliminate the need for respiratory protection.

  4. Safety training on the various types of respiratory protection devices and what purposes they are suitable for.

  5. Safety training on the capabilities and limitations of the devices used.

  6.  Instruction and training in the actual use of respiratory protection equipment and the requirement for frequent supervision to ensure that the devices are being properly used.

  7. Classroom and field safety training on recognizing and coping with emergency situations.

Before employees are required to use any tight fitting respirator OSHA requires that they must complete and submit a Medical Evaluation Questionnaire (MEQ) and (after approval) be respirator fit tested for the devices they will wear in the field. 

If you want to learn more check out this free download from Your Safety Department, LLC:

OSHA Respirator Standard Review