The cartridge life expectancy calculator is an interactive means to help determine when a specific cartridge should be replaced, based on length of use and concentration. (MSA photo)

How to Comply with Respiratory Protection Standards

A working knowledge of applicable standards is critical to a company's continued success. However, understanding your requirements isn't necessarily easy.

How can workplace fatalities and injuries be reduced or, in a perfect world, be totally eradicated? That is precisely what standards are designed to accomplish. Standards are rules designed to provide a work environment free from known dangers or hazards. These standards require the use of certain safe practices and equipment and require employers to monitor hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses. Often, these rules are trade specific and self imposed by industry-related societies or committees. Some standards, however, are mandatory, but it is often difficult to discern which require compliance.

In the United States, NIOSH is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. OSHA is the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. Compliance with OSHA’s standards is mandatory and is stringently enforced. Congress created both agencies in 1970 in an effort to secure safe and healthy working conditions by establishing and enforcing standards that designate the methods that employers must use to protect their employees.

NIOSH conducts scientific research, develops guidance and authoritative recommendations, disseminates information, and responds to requests for workplace health hazard evaluations. OSHA standards include requirements to provide fall protection; prevent trenching cave-ins; prevent some infectious diseases; ensure that workers safely enter confined spaces, prevent exposure to harmful substances such as asbestos; install guards on machines; provide respirators or other safety equipment; and provide training for certain dangerous jobs.

Another driving force in the regulatory arena is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). As a voice of the United States standards and conformity assessment system, ANSI was established to enhance both the global competitiveness of U.S. business and the U.S. quality of life by promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems, and safeguarding their integrity, in an effort to protect workers, according to its mission statement.

A working knowledge of applicable standards is critical to a company's continued success. However, understanding your requirements to comply isn't necessarily easy. We hope to simplify that process for you in regard to both OSHA and ANSI standards pertaining to the proper protection of respirator users. The intent of this article is to help make compliance easier, faster, and more economical.

First, we'll explore OSHA's 29 CFR Part 1910.134, which is geared toward Personal Protective Equipment, specifically respiratory equipment. 29 CFR Part 1910.134 states that, in the presence of possible industrial breathing contaminants, a respirator must be provided to each employee to protect the health and well-being of that employee. Employers are required to provide respirators specifically designed for the purpose intended. An important stipulation is the establishment and maintenance of a respiratory protection program, which has definite requirements.

To help you to better understand 29 CFR Part 1910.134, please visit You’ll find an overview of the standard with examples of forms that may be useful in complying.

The Fundamentals of Respirator Selection
The fundamental goal of any respiratory protection program is to control occupational diseases and injuries caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smoke, sprays, and/or vapors. The defense against these contaminants is simple: Keep them out of the air that workers breathe. Always implement engineering and/or administrative controls first. If contaminants still present a hazard, you must provide appropriate respiratory protection for every employee who might be exposed to them.

Employers must follow the requirements of NIOSH and OSHA regulations, both the general regulations that apply to all workplaces and the specific regulations for exposures. According to program details in 29 CFR 1910.134, standard operating procedures governing the selection and use of respirators provide several key fundamentals in selecting a respirator. These are:

  • A written plan detailing how the program will be administered;
  • A complete assessment and knowledge of respiratory hazards that will be encountered in the workplace;
  • Procedures and equipment to control respiratory hazards, including the use of engineering controls and work practices designed to limit or reduce employee exposures to such hazards;
  • Guidelines for the proper selection of appropriate respiratory protective equipment;
  • An employee training program covering hazard recognition, the dangers associated with respiratory hazards, and proper care and use of respiratory protective equipment;
  • Inspection, maintenance, and repair of respiratory protective equipment; and
  • Medical surveillance of employees.

Manufacturers' Tools Make Compliance Easy
Proper protection of respirator users is the overall goal of a respirator program. Most respirator manufacturers have tools designed to simplify the process of developing, administering, and maintaining a respiratory protection program in a work environment. Some examples are respirator selection guides, cartridge life expectancy calculators, and interactive training programs.

The purpose of a respirator selection guide is to offer a compilation of a broad range of respiratory protective products to help you to determine which respiratory solution best fits your specific requirements. Not only does the guide encompass your various choices in respirator options, but also it will offer guidance on choosing the correct cartridges and/or filters. The most important factor in determining the best respirator for your individual needs is to understand your environmental factors involved through proper air sampling. Respirator and cartridge selection are determined by the following factors: the results of your air sampling program; the accepted NIOSH, OSHA, or ACGIH exposure limits for contaminants; and the maximum use concentration of those substances.

The cartridge life expectancy calculator is an interactive means to help determine when a specific cartridge should be replaced, based on length of use and concentration. OSHA requires respirator cartridge replacement on a fixed, predetermined schedule to avoid "time of break through." Breaking through occurs when the hazardous chemical "breaks through" the cartridge without being absorbed or collected by the protective barrier. The following information is needed to adequately utilize a cartridge life expectancy calculator:

  • Chemical hazard
  • Exposure and concentration
  • Temperature
  • Relative humidity
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • What type of a respirator you are using
  • Type of work and average breathing rate
  • Breakthrough concentration preference

Most respirator manufacturers now offer training programs in CD format and/or online through their websites. As part of an effective interactive training program, online courses are available to inform users about the respirator and also how to wear it and how to maintain it. These programs are a necessity because OSHA requires an employee training program on these topics.

Online classes offer ease of use because they are available 24 hours a day, and end users can be trained when it is convenient for them. Users also should consider consulting manufacturers for recommendations or with any question about specific products.

Using the ANSI Standard
The ANSI Z88 Committee on Respiratory Protection has a voluntary consensus standard entitled "Standard Practices for Respiratory Protection," which is ANSI/AIHA Z88.2. This standard is of special interest because it addresses the question of assigned protection factors (APFs).

APFs are the main factor used by thousands of employers when they select respirators to protect workers from different airborne hazards. The ANSI standard recommends protective factors that are very similar to those in OSHA's proposal, except for a more conservative APF for filtering facepieces (disposable respirators). The standard also addresses other issues of key importance to the proper use of respiratory protection in the workplace and of interest to stakeholders, including:

  • Requirements for respiratory protection programs
  • Standard operating procedures for programs
  • Selection, limitation, and use of respirators
  • Training
  • Fit testing
  • Maintenance, inspection, storage, and disposal
  • Breathing air and oxygen-deficient atmospheres
  • Recordkeeping

Interested parties can obtain additional information about this standard or other activities of the ANSI Z88 Committee on Respiratory Protection by visiting

In conclusion, there are various avenues that can help you with the trials and tribulation of respiratory standard compliance. To stay current on the standards that pertain to your industry and specific work environment, it is always in your best interest to turn to the NIOSH and OSHA websites (, first. Contacting the manufacturer of your equipment also can be beneficial.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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