Safety Mask Fittings Standardized By Respiratory Protection Ruling

Feb. 1, 1998
STANDARDIZING safety mask fittings as part of a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule is a step forward in respiratory protection

STANDARDIZING safety mask fittings as part of a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule is a step forward in respiratory protection for workers who use self-contained breathing devices, says Ernie Younkins, technical service director, International Safety Instruments, Atlanta, Georgia.

OSHA published H-049, Respiratory Protection, in the Federal Register January 8, 1998, and set an effective date of April 8, 1998.

While Younkins expects little additional administrative impact on companies that use respirators, he says the rule update for mask fittings testing is appropriate. "It's good because the tests can address the problem of pressure in the mask. If there is positive pressure as a result of a poor fit, leakage will occur, and that's what you've got to be concerned about."

Younkins says he sees little or no added compliance cost to companies. "For the most part, companies have been doing this for years. It's only the people who weren't aware of the requirements who haven't followed the rule. At least 90 percent of the people have been following the rule. Good safety companies traditionally require that shippers demonstrate their program."

The rule originated partially because of advances in technology that outdated the respiratory protection standard adopted by OSHA in 1971. It affects trucking, shipyards, longshoring, marine terminal workplaces, construction, and other general industry. OSHA's review of data in 1994 and 1995 indicated compliance failure in the 1971 rule was a critical factor in at least 47 fatalities and 126 catastrophic injuries.

Cited Deficiencies "The most frequently cited deficiencies included failure to provide respirators at all, or to have standard operating procedures governing respirator use, and failure to train or fit test respirators users adequately," the rule states.

Representatives of private industry, other federal agencies, respirator manufacturers, and unions support the revision, according to OSHA.

Employers will be required to supply evidence of program administration, including worksite-specific procedures, respirator selection, employee training, fit testing, medical evaluation, and respirator use, cleaning, maintenance, and repair. OSHA says the rule becomes effective April 8, 1998.

The rule regulates which employees must use a respirator, and sets standards for how workers are fitted with the equipment and the training to use where they would be exposed to airborne contaminants, physical hazards, and biological agents. An estimated five million workers in 1.3 million workplaces will fall under the guidelines. Cost per worker is projected to be $22, or an annual cost of $111 million to industry.

Cost Estimates OSHA estimates there are more than 59,000 respirator users in the trucking and warehouse industry. Cost of the final respiratory protection standard for the trucking and warehouse industry is estimated at .09 percent of profits.

"Anything that makes the workplace safer is good, says Nino Granitero, product manager for North Safety Products, Cranston, Rhode Island. "There are a couple of nuances here and there. We are still digesting most of it. We will be publishing some of it for our salespeople."

He also agreed that rules requiring specific testing and usage means companies using the equipment will be more likely to follow the manufacturers' recommendation for fit. The new rule addresses tight-fitting quarter masks that cover the mouth and nose, half masks, fitting over the nose and under the chin, and full masks that cover the face from the hairline to below the chin, according to OSHA.

Fit testing can be qualitative or quantitative. For qualitative fit testing, a gas, vapor, or aerosol test agent is introduced around the head of the user. If the test agent can be detected through the respirator, the fit is considered inappropriate.

Appropriate Testing The quantitative test is performed by measuring leakage into the respirator, generating a test aerosol as an atmosphere with ambient aerosol as the test agent, or using controlled negative pressure to measure the volumetric leak rate.

Retraining sessions are to be conducted annually, and all employees must be trained before they use the equipment, Younkins says.

In the directive, OSHA noted that Exxon recommends annual training so that employees who use a respirator are comfortable using the equipment. Eastman Chemical Company also endorses an annual training program.

Employees should learn not only how to wear the equipment, but the reasons for its necessity, including fit, usage, maintenance, limitations, capabilities, malfunctions, inspections, and medical symptoms from exposure to hazardous materials, the rule states. The rule requires that the literature and presentations made in training sessions be understandable and that the employees must complete the program satisfactorily before using the equipment, but does not dictate the educational format. Changes in duties and types of respirators also require further training of employees.

Employers will be required to keep information showing evidence of medical evaluations, fit testing, and the respirator program, but recordkeeping can been consolidated, OSHA says.

States that administer OSHA-approved plans are required to adopt a similar rule within six months. In others, OSHA will provide interim enforcement assistance.