Because we do constantly without thinking, breathing isn’t something we naturally give much consideration to. But inhaling toxic substances can have serious effects on our health and life.
Exposure to chemical substances can cause everything from irritation to bronchitis, emphysema, lung disease, and even cancer. Acute exposure to toxicants can trigger death by asphyxiation. Respiratory safety is something you want to take seriously.
What Causes Respiratory Hazards
Toxic substances are often found in manufacturing and construction environments, and they’re as varied as the locations where they occur:
- coal dust
- carbides of tungsten
- cadmium oxide
- nitrogen oxides
- and others
If a job requires working with toxic substances, employers must follow OSHA guidelines for respiratory safety. An estimated 5 million workers are required to wear respirators in 1.3 million workplaces throughout the United States. Respirators protect workers against insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, and sprays.
OSHA estimates that its Respiratory Protection Standard could prevent hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses each year.
How Respirators Work
Respirators protect the user in a couple of ways.
- By removing contaminants from the air. These respirators include particulate respirators (which filter out airborne particles) and air-purifying respirators (which have cartridges or canisters that filter out chemicals and gases).
- By supplying clean respirable air from another source. These respirators include airline respirators (which use compressed air from a remote source) and self-contained breathing apparatus (which include their own air supply).
When the Standards Apply
The OSHA respirator requirements apply each and every time an employee is:
- Exposed to a hazardous level of an airborne contaminant or
- Required by the employer to wear respirators or
- Permitted to wear respirators