The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires
respiratory protection for workers who are exposed to harmful dust, fog, smoke, fumes, gases, vapors, sprays, or insufficient oxygen. Providing the right respirator not only
complies with OSHA safety standards, it helps prevent serious illnesses like cancer and lung disease.
When to Use Respirators
Per OSHA requirements, respirators must be used to "protect employees from breathing contaminated and/or oxygen-deficient air when effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted." In short, when workplace
practices cannot control or contain the airborne contaminants, respirators are the solution. Be aware that no respirator can 100% prevent contaminants from entering the wearer's breathing zone. It is vital that the right type of
respirators are available for the right situation.
OSHA requires the use of NIOSH certified respirators.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certifies respirators, and classifies them with N, R, and P series. There are also three levels of filter efficiency: 95%, 99%, and 99.97%.The class of filter will be labeled on the
filter, filter package, or respirator box. A respirator labeled N95 means you have an N series filter that is 95% efficient.
NIOSH explains the classifications this way:
The selection of N, R, and P series filters depends on the presence or absence of oil particles, as follows:
If no oil particles are present in the work environment, use a filter of any series (i.e., N, R, or P series).
If oil particles (e.g., lubricants, cutting fluids, glycerine, etc.) are present, use an R series or P series filter. Note: N series filters cannot be used if oil particles are present.
If oil particles are present and the filter is to be used for more than one work shift, use only a P-series filter.
Note: To help you remember the filter series, use the following guide:
N for Not resistant to oil
R for Resistant to oil
P for oil Proof
Selection of filter efficiency (i.e., 95%, 99%, or 99.97%) depends on how much filter leakage can be accepted. Higher filter efficiency means lower filter leakage.
Selecting the right type of respirator for the situation is vital. Respirators are available in
half mask and
full face coverage, and each style performs differently. The three ways respirators work:
Filter out airborne particle
Chemically purify the air
Supply clean air from another source
Particulate Respirator/Air Purifying masks are for lower level hazards, and protect against dust, fumes, and mists. There are gauze particulate
masks used for dust, and canister-type masks with replaceable filters.
Chemical Cartridge/Gas Masks feature a facemask, a cartridge, and straps. They filter gasses, vapors, and dangerous chemicals from the air as you
OSHA has a color-coded system to help identify the type of protection:
White: acid gases
White with a half-inch green stripe: hydrocyanic acid gases
White with a half-inch yellow stripe: chlorine gas
Black: organic vapors
Green: against acid gas and ammonia gas
Blue: carbon monoxide
Yellow: acid gases and organic vapors
Yellow with a half-inch blue stripe: hydrocyanic acid gas and chloropicrin vapor
Brown: acid gases, organic vapors and ammonia gases
Purple: (magenta): radioactive materials, except tritium and noble gases
Purple: any particulate-P100 rating
Orange: any particulate-rating of P95, P99, R95, R99, or R100
Olive: chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear gases and materials
Teal: oil-free particulate-rating of N95, N99, or N100
Training & Fit Tests
Not only are employers to provide proper respiratory protection, but fit tests and training are also required. OSHA requires training and fit tests prior to first use of respirators, and annually after that.
NOTE: This information is a summary interpretation and was prepared as general reference material only. This summary is not authoritative as laws can be amended over time. For specific compliance requirements and updates, please refer to the actual
code language and the statute or legal counsel.