Optional Respirators: You Need a Program

Respirators or dust masks can provide an additional level of comfort and protection for the employees.


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An employer may provide respirators and dust masks at the request of employees, even when they are not required. Employees may choose to wear a respirator to avoid exposure to nuisances or hazards even though the nuisance or hazard does not exceed the limits set by OSHA standards. In such circumstances, respirators or dust masks can provide an additional level of comfort and protection for the employees. However, it is incumbent upon the employer to assure that the respirator and its use do not become a hazard to the employee.

If the employer determines that the voluntary use of the respirator is permissible and does not itself present a hazard, the employer still has an obligation to provide those using the respirators with the information contained in Appendix D of 1910.134, titled, “Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under the Standard.”

The employer must also establish and implement the elements of a written respiratory protection program necessary to assure that any employee using a respirator voluntarily is medically able to use the respirator, and that the respirator is cleaned, stored and maintained so that its use does not present a health hazard to the user. For employers whose employees’ only use of respirators involves dust masks (filtering face pieces), no such written program is required.

As with any safety program, the employer needs to designate a program administrator who is qualified by training for the complexity of the program to be administered. The program oversight must include evaluations to determine program effectiveness.

Here are five responsibilities for employees who choose to wear optional respiratory protection/dust masks:

  1. Read and heed all instructions provided by the manufacturer on use, maintenance, cleaning and care, as well as warnings regarding the respirator’s limitations.
  2. Choose respirators certified for use to protect against the contaminant of concern. NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, certifies respirators. A label or statement of certification should         appear on the respirator or respirator packaging. The label will tell you what the respirator is designed for and what protection it offers.
  3. Do not wear your respirator into atmospheres containing contaminants for which your respirator is not designed to protect against. A respirator designed to filter dust particles will not protect you against gases, vapors or very small solid particles of fumes or smoke. 
  4. Do not make the mistake of believing that a respirator provides oxygen. Respirators’ and dust masks’ sole function is to filter out impurities from air. They do not generate oxygen that is not already present in the atmosphere.
  5. Keep track of your respirator so you do not mistakenly use someone else’s respirator.

As an employer, in addition to providing the respirator or dust mask, you need to have a written program, and you need to train your employees about these requirements. The employer shall provide respirators, training and medical evaluations at no cost to the employee.

For more information, please see 1910.134(c)(2) or visit this link: short.productionmachining.com/respirator

— Precision Machined Products Association