Respiratory Safety: Keys to Protect Your Employees

Respiratory illness can be serious and in some cases, deadly. In today's workforce many workers are not properly protected and are at risk for respiratory illness.

According to OSHA , about 5 million workers are required to wear respirators to protect against hazards such as insufficient oxygen, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors and sprays. These hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment, disease or death. It is imperative for you to provide the proper equipment, training and programs to protect your employees.

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Below are some steps you can take to protect your employees and ensure their safety.

Provide the Proper Respiratory Protection

The most common type of respiratory protection are respirators, which cover the nose, mouth or face to guard workers against hazardous atmospheres. Respirators protect the user in two different ways, air purifying and atmosphere supplying.

Air Purifying

These types of respirators have filters, cartridges, canisters or a combination of filters that pass ambient air through the air-purifying element before it reaches the user. There are three types of air-purifying respirators:

1) Particulate:

Capture particles in the air such as dusts, mists and fumes. These respirators do not protect against gases or vapors and generally become more effective as particles accumulate on the filter. To ensure they are working properly the filter should be replaced, if the user finds it difficult to breathe. These are also referred to as disposable respirators.

2) Gas and Vapor: 

Normally used when there are only hazardous gases and vapors in the air. These respirators use chemical cartridges or canisters to remove gases, but do not protect against airborne particles.

3) Combination

Used in atmospheres that contain both particulate and gas and vapor hazards. 


The second category of respirators supply clean breathing air from another source. There are three types of atmosphere-supplying respirators:

1) Air-Supplied (Airline)

Airlines deliver clean, breathable air from an uncontaminated source. They provide clean air for long periods of time and are lightweight. These respirators are usually used when there are extended work periods required in atmospheres that are not immediately dangerous to life and health.

2) Combination

Combination respirators have an auxiliary self-contained air supply that can be used if the primary supply fails, and is generally small since it only needs to supply enough air for escape. These can be used for entry into confined spaces and are used when there are extended work periods required in an atmosphere that may be immediately dangerous to life and health.

3) Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

These consist of a wearable, clean air supply pack that does not restrict movement and provides air for up to four hours. SCBA's are normally used when there is a short-time needed to enter and escape from atmosphere which may be immediately dangerous to life and health.

Respiratory Training Programs

Employees must be trained before they can use a respirator, or assigned working with different respiratory hazards. Certification must be renewed each year, and OSHA's respiratory protection standards have requirements that training must cover.  

Requirements include teaching employees:

  • Why a respirator is necessary in the workplace
  • How to place and remove the respirator from the face
  • Proper use of the device
  • What to do in emergency situations when respirators do not work
  • How to check the seal

Employers must also create a respiratory protection program that meets OSHA requirements. Training must be worksite specific and easily understood by the employees. Information must be provided on the following topics:

  • Fit testing and the dangers of improper fit
  • Procedure and schedule for cleaning and inspecting devices
  • Medical evaluation of employees
  • Air quality standards
  • Recognize medical symptoms that could prevent use of respirator

Visit the OSHA Respiratory Protection web page for more information and links to videos.

At Arbill, we can help provide respiratory protection for your employees. Arbill offers multiple respiratory training programs and we can provide yearly training that satisfies OSHA's respiratory standards and medical evaluations for employees. Along with proper qualitative and quantitative fit testing. 

Contact an Arbill Safety Expert today, to see how we can help keep your employees safe with proper training and protective equipment.

Have a Safe Day!