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March 28, 2005
Breathe Easier Knowing Respirator Training Rules

Here's why OSHA takes respirator training seriously. In 1998, OSHA issued a new, tougher version of its Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) with greater emphasis on proper training. In OSHA's opinion, better training was acutely needed because nearly half he workers who wore respirators were using them improperly. In many cases, OSHA said, improper use of respirators actually magnified the hazards that respirators were supposed to guard against. Examples include:

  • Improper fit, which can trap hazardous dust, fumes, etc., inside the respirator.
  • Poor cleaning and maintenance, which fails to take off hazardous materials.
  • Carelessness, such as when a worker takes off a respirator, places it on a contaminated surface, and then puts it back on again.

OSHA's 9-point training for its own employees: OSHA's guidelines for its own employees elaborate on the training requirements that appear in the actual Standard. The main topics to cover are:

  1. The general requirements of the Standard
  2. Why respirators are necessary, including hazards, potential exposure, and health effects
  3. How respirators are selected
  4. Procedures for inspecting the respirator, donning and removing it, checking fit and seal, and actually wearing it
  5. The consequences of improper fit, usage, or maintenance
  6. Limitations and capabilities of respirators, including knowing when they reach the end of their service life and need to be changed
  7. Using respirators in emergencies, including malfunctions
  8. Proper procedures for maintenance and storage
  9. How to recognize medical signs and symptoms (such as shortness of breath or dizziness) that may prevent the effective use of a respirator
Why It Matters...
  • The Respiratory Protection Standard is in the top five most frequently cited OSHA violations.
  • There were more than 4,000 violations of the Standard in 2004.
  • More than $1.3 million in penalties were assessed for Respiratory Protection Standard violations in 2004.

Remember that the Standard doesn't just require training ... it requires "effective" training. In other words, it's not enough to provide information; the employer must demonstrate that employees actually know how to use respirators correctly. Furthermore, everyone must be trained at least annually—meaning on or before the anniversary date of the first training. Finally, retraining is required whenever:

  • A new type of respirator is introduced.
  • An employee is not using a respirator properly.
  • Retraining appears necessary to ensure safe respirator use.
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