Tell Them What They Need to Know
CAttle-call or vague training in this area is dangerous. Make sure employees understand the hazards and PPE's limitations.
Respiratory protection is a complex topic.One
of the more vague elements of it is making
sure the employee really understands the
training provided so that he/she can use the
respirator as designed for personal protection.
For many employees, training is fast, vague, and overwhelming.
Much new material is presented with little
time to process and ask questions for clarity. Other training
sessions are cattle calls with huge groups in attendance,
where the individual is one of the masses and little
thought is given to special needs such as language
barriers, hearing loss, or background.
While there are many critical items to cover when
providing training/awareness for your employees on respiratory
protection (whether voluntary comfort use or
use that your management requires), here are some considerations
before your next class:
Provide access to your company policy for every employee.
Ensure everyone knows how to access worker’s
compensation if exposed or injured and whom to ask for
additional information or concerns.
Be up front with employees about the situation and
the hazards exposed to on the job that require respiratory
protection. Explain about any area monitoring that
has been done and how often testing will be followed up.
Advise employees where testing logs are kept and whom
to question about the testing details.
Explain alternatives to respiratory protection if
List specifically the hazards of each situation or task
that requires respiratory protection and the type respirator
to be used for each.
Be genuine and very explicit with the warning properties
of the hazard. Explain in detail what the warning
property is and limitations to detection, such as smell
(and the extra precautions for those who can not smell,
etc.). Repeat often if there are no warning properties!
Explain the health effects, how to detect exposure,
and how long it takes to manifest itself in an exposed
employee. Make sure the employees understand longterm
and short-term exposures.
Explain why this particular respirator was chosen for
employee protection. Explain the advantages and disadvantages,
such as ease of use, comfort, service life, etc.
Discuss options in the event this particular respirator
will not fit the employee or if other limitations
create wearing limitations. For example, some employees
may be able to wear a different style of respirator
for the same hazard.
Cover limitations to wearing a respirator and discuss
the problems for this specific work environment.
Heat stress, communication limitations, and adding
physical stress to the wearer are hindrances to respiratory
Address health evaluations, monitoring, and medical
surveillance. Explain what it is, what information is
being gathered,and why.How often will the medical testing
be done, and who pays for it? How is the time logged?
Paid or unpaid? Where will the records be stored? Can an
employee have copies? Will these medical records be used
for any other fitness-for-duty issue?
Address use and misuse issues.What happens if an
employee does not use the respirator properly? Is retraining
an option? What about horseplay with equipment?
(The cigarette sticking out of the respirator is often
a gag.) What disciplinary action is possible if an employee
knowingly does not use, properly store, or care for the
Discuss beard and facial hair issues and what happens
if an employee refuses to shave.
Cover your procedure if an employee refuses to wear
the provided respirator.
Explain to everyone how to get replacement respirators,
repairs to equipment, and who can answer questions.
While the supervisor is the first line of training,
many employees prefer to ask someone other than immediate
working groups to avoid teasing.
Employees need to understand the difference between
a disposable and reusable respirator and which he/she has to use.When are disposables replaced, and
how do they know when to replace them? Every employee
needs to know details about cleaning, assembling,
inspecting for problems, and storage of respiratory
After the Training
You must follow up. One of the most-overlooked areas
in respiratory protection awareness/training is simple
follow-up. “All at once” training often overlooks employees
who may hesitate to ask questions or have
missed key components of the training because they did
not understand the training, there were distractions such
as others talking or joking, or perhaps they suffer mild
to profound hearing disability.
If the trainer is unfamiliar with the group to be
trained on a critical issue such as respiratory protection,
ask ahead of time if any employee has special needs,
such as needing larger-print handouts, language barriers,
interpreters for the deaf or hard of hearing, colorblind
cues for color-coded items, mobility issues, and
even, in some locations, claustrophobia if the room is
overly crowded or windowless. Our employees learn
better when they are comfortable.
Separate overly large or rowdy groups into two or
more sections in order to maintain control.While 15-20
is an ideal size for a group, for extremely dangerous potential
exposures, you may want much smaller groups to
allow more quality time to deal with questions or problems.
Also, allow for at least one session with someone
who needs additional instruction, such as an employee
with dyslexia, to help him/her understand in a manner
that is slower paced and reinforces important features
without others present.
Our employees deserve the best. Go provide it by
training them in a constructive, positive, professional
manner that fits the need. It enhances safety’s value to
both employees and upper management and protects
our most valued asset, the employee.
This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.