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Improve respiratory safety with 5 steps
Most violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration's respiratory protection standard are from wearing respirators without the required employee elements completed prior to use, says Mary Gene Ryan, BSN, MPH, RN, COHN-S/SM, FAAOHN, executive director of MGRyan & Co. Inc., a Ventura, CA-based occupational health and safety consulting firm.
"Workers are found wearing respirators without being medically evaluated and fit-tested," she says. In most cases of violations, adds Ryan, they fail to follow a written respiratory protection program. Take these steps before any employee wears a respirator, she advises:
1. Do an exposure assessment. "You need to know the hazard is to engineer it out, [and/or] select and provide the correct respiratory protection," she says.
2. Provide a health evaluation/medical clearance. "Not everyone may be cleared to wear certain levels of respiratory protection," says Ryan. "Each employee must have medical clearance prior to wearing a respirator."
3. Select the correct level and type of respirator, based on the measured or known hazard. "If the hazard is unknown, you have to use the highest level," she says.
4. Provide respirator training and fit testing."Each form-fitting mask needs fit testing, but all respirators, including hooded air-line or powered air purifying respirators, require training," she says.
5. Perform cleaning, inspection, maintenance and storage. "All respirators need this. Employees need to be trained on how this is done," says Ryan.
To identify violations and improve compliance, occupational health professionals should walk around sites periodically, she adds. Consider these steps:
Assure that all control measures are being used, and that written program elements are being followed;
Check engineering issues such as ventilation systems, substitution of chemicals, and enclosing hazardous operations;
Check on training completion, and correct use of procedures such as user fit checks and medical clearance;
Ensure that workers are using the correct level for the job task with correct filters or cartridges, and that respirators are stored clean, inspected, and worn correctly;
Before you do the walkthrough, it is a good idea to review existing program action plans and efforts, inspection checklists and internal respiratory protection audits, she observes.
This will give you an understanding of how previous inspectors or auditors viewed the program, says Ryan. You will learn what actions were recommended and where the company is in implementing recommendations, she adds.
At least annually, attend a staff meeting where respiratory protection is the topic. "Have each employee discuss barriers with the current program," she says. "Develop an action plan for improvement with the employee group."
For more information on respiratory protection, contact:
Mary Gene Ryan, BSN, MPH, RN, COHN-S/SM, FAAOHN, Executive Director, MGRyan & Co., Inc., Oxnard, CA. Phone: (805) 658-9622. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.