Many workers rely on respiratory protection in the form of a disposable or reusable respirator on a daily basis. But did you know, that respirators should never be the first choice of respiratory protection in workplaces?
It all comes down to what safety professionals call the hierarchy of controls. When selecting a control for a hazard we want to make sure that we our choice is guided by a rational approach that offers the greatest level of protection for workers. During my construction career, I continually saw workers, supervisors, and managers ignoring the hierarchy of controls by reaching for that respirator first. So what do we need to know about selecting hazard controls?
The hierarchy of hazard controls tells us to first consider engineering controls to controls respiratory hazards. The most common is likely mechanical ventilation. In the photo below we can see a welder using local exhaust ventilation to remove the fume from his weld.
Administrative controls limit workers’ exposures by scheduling reduced work times in contaminant areas or by implementing other such work rules. These control measures have many limitations because the hazard is not removed. Administrative controls are not generally favoured because they can be difficult to implement, maintain and are not reliable. (CCOHS)
Our final choice in the hierarchy of controls is personal protective equipment; equipment such as masks, respirators, SCBA, or SABA. Relying solely on a respirator to control an atmospheric hazard is not the best way to control atmospheric hazards, however, workers are often required to wear respirators in order to provide additional protection from atmospheric hazards that have not been eliminated by the selected engineering and administrative controls.
Respiratory protection is a complex topic, and the selection and use of appropriate respirators can be challenging. Employers are required to develop a respiratory protection program designed to methodically assess respiratory hazards in the workplace and develop controls. Part of this requirement is that employers have their employees fit tested for the particular respirator they will be using.
OH&S Safety Consulting and Training Solutions LTD. offers its clients qualitative fit testing for their respirators. We also sell a wide range of respiratory protection products including full and half-face masks, particulate and organic vapour cartridges, and specialty products like powered air purifying respirators, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and more.
Simply visit us at 825 laval crescent in Kamloops, BC, or phone 778-471-6407 to book an appointment. Individuals requiring a fit test must be clean shaven where the respirator forms a seal, and must not have health concerns that might affect their ability to work safely in a respirator. We also perform fit-testing at your job site.
We have recently had the pleasure to assist the early residents of Fort Mcmurray by providing respiratory fit-testing and products. We hope that everyone reading this remembers that personal protective equipment such as respirators are our last choice in the hierarchy of respiratory protection choices. Before you reach for your mask, ask yourself if you can ventilate or implement administrative controls.
Work Safe BC Information Sheet