While working in environments that have insufficient oxygen or are comprised of harmful dust, smoke or fumes/gases, it is imperative to the health and well-being of construction workers to wear respirators. These health hazards are capable of causing cancer and lung impairment among several other potentially fatal diseases. Toxic substances at the site that are not able to be managed by engineering controls must be protected against to reduce the risk of illness, injury or death among workers.
In circumstances of insufficient oxygen, atmosphere-supplying respirators can be used to protect against increased breathing rates, accelerated heartbeat and impaired coordination. If a construction worker loses their concentration due to environmental hazards for even one second while performing an action that has the potential for danger (which is nearly everything on a work site), the result can be fatal.
Respirators have limited functionality and should not be considered a substitute for effective engineering controls (enclosed systems, local exhaust ventilation, etc.) and workplace procedures. When these things are compromised, utilization of respirators may very well be the only way to keep employees safe from long-term exposure. This also holds true for when these methods cannot properly reduce exposure levels in compliance with OSHA regulations.
OSHA currently requires employers to institute and uphold a respiratory protection program. Its standards consist of requirements for worksite-specific procedures, respirator selection, maintenance and repair in addition to the following.
Adequate respirator programs must cover:
- Written program evaluation
- Knowledge of suitable, NIOSH-approved respirators
- Employee training
- Testing for personal fit for the wearer
- Medical evaluation
- Work area surveillance
- Air quality standards