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 available.

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 protection.

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 equipment?

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 protection items.

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.

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