As the safety administrator, running a successful respiratory protection program means navigating a maze of regulations and anticipating hazards. Consider us your resource. Whenever you are in the process, we can help guide you to the information and details you need.
To run a successful workplace respiratory protection program, you must understand and comply with the standards set by local guidelines, standards (AS/NZS 1715) and regulations. If you’ve already started your research, you know it can be overwhelming. To help you make sense of it all, we’ve summarised key elements of the standards.
When respiratory protection is required as per the standard, a written respiratory protection program should be established. That means the designated program administrator must oversee the following:
Safe Work requires employers to evaluate respiratory hazards in the workplace. You can bring in an independent consultant for an additional opinion on your hazards if you don’t have a trained safety professional on staff. The results of the assessment can help determine:
You should conduct a new assessment periodically and every time there are changes in the workplace that could result in new exposures — such as a change in equipment, process, products or control measures.
Some contaminants have a specific standard requiring a certain type of monitoring protocol or frequency. For testing methods and advice, you may wish to visit Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) website.
Objective data from industry studies, trade associations, or tests conducted by chemical manufacturers that show air contaminants can’t be released in concentrations that are “immediately dangerous to life or health” (IDLH). The highest foreseeable exposures should be used.
Mathematical approaches: combining data on the properties of air contaminants, room dimensions, air exchange rates, contaminant release rates, and other data — including exposure patterns and work practices — to estimate the maximum exposure anticipated.
If there’s no feasible way to estimate exposure, consider the atmosphere to be IDLH. All oxygen-deficient (<19.5%) atmospheres are considered IDLH, unless it can be demonstrated that oxygen concentration can be maintained within a safe range.
If the assessment shows that exposure levels of airborne contaminants are unacceptable, as the safety administrator you should first see if you can control them by engineering controls (changing procedures, swapping out chemicals) or administrative controls (limiting worker exposure). If there’s no feasible way to bring exposure to acceptable levels, then you’re responsible for providing respirators, training and medical evaluations at no cost to the employee.
When respirator use is required in the workplace, respirators shall conform to the requirements of AS/NZS 1716*. As a safety administrator, you must select respirators according to the assigned protection factor (APF), which is the workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when the employer implements a continuing, effective respiratory protection program.
Another consideration is maximum use concentration (MUC), which is the maximum concentration a worker can be expected to be protected from using the chosen respirator. Multiplying the APF by the workplace exposure standard (WES) gives you the MUC for a respirator; it should be less than the IDLH levels for that hazard.
WES X APF = MUC
And finally, the respirators you select have to be appropriate for the type of hazard. Different types of respirators, filters and cartridges are needed depending on whether the airborne contaminants in your workplace are particles, gases, vapours or other hazards. Respirators also need to be compatible with any other personal protective equipment (PPE) and other relevant workplace and user factors e.g. hot environment, health conditions, confined work spaces etc.
*when a recommendation for a respiratory protective device is not available from Australia or New Zealand authorities, the use of respiratory protective equipment may be drawn from recognised international authorities or standardisation bodies.
There are two main kinds of respirators:
Respirators can also be classified as tight-fitting or loose-fitting.
Common types of respirators include:
As per Australian/New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS 1715:2009 section 6.1 Medical Assessment) "Persons who are routinely required to wear respirators should have an initial medial assessment prior to use to determine if they are able to wear respirators."
Further medical assessment may be required when there is a change in circumstances that may affect the workers ability to wear the RPE. Re-evaluation is also necessary if:
Records needed for the written respiratory program:
Copies of the medical evaluation and questionnaire used (keep copies of each employee’s medical determination clearance letter in his/her file for 30 years post-employment). Please ensure local privacy are followed when record keeping.
Tight-fitting respirators can only provide expected protection if they fit correctly, so fit-testing each employee is critical.
There are two kinds of tests, and AS/NZS 1715 specifies which can be used depending on the respirator type.
A qualitative fit test (QLFT) is pass/fail and relies on the employee’s senses using one of three AS/NZS 1715 accepted test agents:
Each QLFT method uses seven exercises performed for 30 seconds each:
NOTE: other exercises may be added depending on the workplace activities such as bending over.
QLFTs may be used to fit-test:
A quantitative fit test (QNFT) uses an instrument to measure leakage around the face seal and produces a numerical result called a “fit factor.” The common QNFT test protocols:
QNFTs use the same exercises as QLFTs, plus an additional “grimace” test where the subject smiles or frowns for 15 seconds.
A QNFT can be used to fit-test any type of tight-fitting respirator. A fit factor of at least 100 is required for half-mask respirators and a minimum fit factor of 500 for a full facepiece negative pressure respirator.
Fit tests should be performed per approved local standards or internationally recognised protocols:
Annual training is an important piece of the respiratory safety program. AS/NZS 1715 states that, at a minimum, training should include:
Employers must provide procedures for the proper use and care of half and full-facepiece respirators.
If air-purifying respirators are used, they may have an end-of-service-life indicator (ESLI) for a specific contaminant. If there’s no ESLI appropriate for conditions in the workplace, then implement a change schedule for canisters and cartridges, based on objective information or data, to ensure they’re changed before the end of their service life. Keep a record in your respiratory program explaining the information and data relied upon, the basis for the change schedule, and the basis for using that data.
The AS/NZS 1715 standard contains specific rules for proper respirator use in IDLH atmospheres.
Each employee who needs one must receive a respirator that’s in working order, clean and sanitary. AS/NZS 1715 provides procedures for cleaning and disinfecting, or you can use the procedures recommended by the respirator manufacturer in the user instructions.
Frequency of cleaning and disinfection depends on how you use the respirator.
Make sure to have your respirators inspected before each use and during cleaning. All respirators maintained for use in emergency situations should be inspected at least monthly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, and checked for proper function before and after each use. Be sure to inspect emergency escape-only respirators before use.
Respirator inspections should include a check of:
For respirators maintained for emergency use, document:
Keep all information on file until the next inspection.
If a respirator fails an inspection or isn’t working, you may discard, repair or adjust it. It is recommended that:
Records needed for the written respiratory program:
All the elements of the program listed above should be evaluated regularly and discussed at regular safety committee meetings. Examine the written records to make sure all tests and inspections are up to date. Also, talk to the workers who use respiratory equipment to ensure the current respirators fulfil their needs, and that they understand and follow procedures for using and maintaining respirators.
Make a record of your evaluation, summarising findings, any deficiencies identified and corrective actions to be taken.
Keeping a written record provides proof of compliance with the regulatory standards to local standards. It also gives employees a reliable source for information about respiratory protection procedures, and it’s invaluable in helping evaluate the program.
The record should:
It takes work and organization to set up and maintain each part of a respiratory protection program. Requirements may vary by state, and by type and level of respiratory hazards employees face, but it’s essential for meeting governmental requirements and helping keep your workforce safe.
* This is an overview only, not an official, legal or complete interpretation of the standard. Refer to the complete AS/NZS 1715 standard for specific questions
There is so much information to get through in long regulatory documents, and respiratory protection can be complex. This list addresses some of the potentially misunderstood or little-known facts surrounding respiratory protection.
Though a dust (nuisance) mask, also known as a comfort mask, looks similar to a filtering facepiece or disposable respirator, dust masks don’t have AS/NZS certification.
If it’s not clear from the product information, contact the manufacturer to verify. You may need to select a different respirator for the types of vapours present in your workplace.
The colour-coding on cartridges signifies which contaminants are filtered. Details on colour coding can be found in AS/NZS 1715.
NOTE: Colouring coding may vary across international standards and regulations.
A filtering facepiece can help protect the wearer’s lungs from harmful particulates — but only if it fits correctly and forms a tight seal. Fit testing of disposable respirators is recommended as per AS/NZS 1715.
As per Australian/New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS 1715:2009) an individual shall be fit tested prior to initial use, whenever there is a change in your facial characteristics or other features which may affect the facial seal of the respirator and should be repeated annually thereafter.
Only tight-fitting respirators, designed to form a complete seal on the face, need a fit test. Loose-fitting respirators, such as the headtop used in a powered- or supplied-air system, don’t require fit-testing.
Some occupational health assessments are offered prior to fit testing certain respiratory protection equipment. Employers should be familiar with information provided in AS/NZS 1715 Section 6, Medical and Physical considerations.
Safe Work Australia specifies before you resort to respirators for workers, you must first try to eliminate the hazard from the workplace and try to limit worker exposure. If it’s not feasible or financially viable to remove the risk in your workplace, then respiratory protection is required — and vital to help protect your workers from the airborne hazards they face. Read the OSHA booklet on industrial hygiene. NOTE: This is a reference document only.