​Respiratory Protection

Employees need to wear respirators whenever engineering and work practice control measures are not enough to prevent atmospheric contamination at the worksite. Strategies for preventing atmospheric contamination may include;

  • Enclosing or confining the contaminant-producing operation,
  • Exhausting the contaminant, or
  • Substituting with less toxic materials.

Respirators have their limitations and are not a substitute for effective engineering and work practice controls. If it is not possible to use these controls to reduce airborne contaminants below their occupational exposure levels, respirator should be used to reduce worker exposure. Also, where work practices and engineering controls alone cannot reduce exposure levels to below the occupational exposure level, respirator use is essential.

NIOSH to workers: Avoid a hairy situation with your respirator

See below for more details.


 Exposure Assessment

OSHA requires respiratory hazard evaluation in the workplace to help determine:

  • Exposure levels, and whether they’re acceptable or unacceptable,
  • Effective ways to control exposure,
  • Which types of respirators (if any) can help provide the right protection for your workers.

A new assessment should be conducted periodically and when there are changes in the workplace that could result in new exposures — such as a change in equipment, process, products or control measures.              

According to OSHA personal air monitoring, where samples are collected by attaching a monitor directly to the worker, is the most reliable and accurate method to determine exposure.

If the assessment shows that exposure levels of airborne contaminants are unacceptable, first try to reduce exposure levels 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 respirator use, respirator protection training and medical evaluations are essential.

Reference: www.3m.com

 Written Program

UW-Stevens Point Respiratory Protection Program can be found on EHS Policies and Procedure page.

 Respirator Selection

OSHA mandates that when respirator use is required in the workplace, respirators must be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The respirators 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, vapors or other hazards. Respirators also need to be compatible with any other personal protective equipment (PPE) that you need to wear for protection against other types of hazards.

Common types of respirators include:

  • Filtering facepiece respirator: a tight-fitting, air-purifying respirator. When used properly, this respirator helps filter out particles in the air and reduce inhalation of particles, but does not work for non-particulate hazards such as gases or vapors. Normally discarded after use.
  • Half-facepiece elastomeric respirator: a tight-fitting, air-purifying respirator with replaceable filters (for particulates) or cartridges or canisters (for gases and vapors). Can be cleaned, decontaminated and reused.
  • Full facepiece elastomeric respirator: a tight-fitting, air-purifying respirator with replaceable filters or cartridges. Provides a higher level of respiratory protection than a half-facepiece respirator. Covers the user's eyes and face, so it can also protect against liquid splashes and irritating vapors.
  • Powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR): has a blower that pulls air through attached filters, then pushes the filtered air into the facepiece, helmet or hood, which covers the user's face. The loose fitting headtops may be used by people with some types of facial hair or those who cannot pass a fit test with a tight-fitting respirator.
  • Airline respirator: supplies clean breathing air to either a hood or a facepiece through a long hose, from a source of clean air such as a cylinder or compressor. May be tight-fitting or loose-fitting.
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA): an atmosphere-supplying respirator with a tight-fitting, elastomeric facepiece that covers the user's face. Air is supplied from a cylinder of compressed breathing air that is carried by the user. Provides the highest level of respiratory protection. Only atmosphere-supplying respirators, such as an airline respirator or a SCBA, can be used in IDLH atmospheres.

Also, see Selection Guide for 3M Reusable Respirators.

3M Selection Guide.png

Reference: www.3m.com

 Medical Evaluation

Respiratory protection can make breathing more difficult and may place additional stress on the body. So, before wear a respirator, make sure that you are medically approved to do so.

OSHA requires completing a OSHA Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire that includes information about medical conditions which could affect employees ability to wear a respirator, as well as information about workplace conditions and the hazards employees face. You should fill this questionnaire and then a physician or licensed health care professional (PLHCP) must evaluate your responses. The PLHCP will recommend whether follow-up medical examinations are required, and if so, what tests are necessary.

OSHA Requirements            

OSHA requires periodic re-evaluation but doesn’t specify a time period. Re-evaluation is also necessary if:

  • A worker reports signs or symptoms that may affect his/her ability to use a respirator,
  • A PLHCP, supervisor or respiratory program administrator decides it,
  • Information arises during fit testing or program evaluation indicating a need,
  • Workplace conditions change (such as; if more exertion is required, temperatures change, or bulkier protective clothing is introduced).

 Reference: www.3m.com

 Fit Testing

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 OSHA 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 four OSHA-accepted test agents:

    • Isoamyl acetate, which produces a sweet smell, is only for testing respirators equipped with cartridges designed to remove organic vapors.
    • Saccharin, consisting of a sweet-tasting aerosol, can test respirators equipped with a particulate filter of any class.
    • Bittert, a bitter-tasting aerosol, can also test respirators with particulate filters of any class.
    • Irritant smoke, an aerosol that triggers an involuntary cough reflex, is only for testing respirators equipped with level 100 particulate filters.

    Each QLFT method uses seven exercises performed for 1 minute each:

    • Normal breathing.+
    • Deep breathing.
    • Moving head side to side.
    • Moving head up and down.
    • Bending over (or jogging in place if fit test unit doesn’t permit bending at the waist).
    • Talking.
    • Normal breathing.

A quantitative fit test (QNFT) uses an instrument to measure leakage around the face seal and produces a numerical result called a “fit factor.” There are three OSHA-accepted QNFT test protocols:

  • Generated aerosol, which uses a non-hazardous aerosol such as corn oil generated in a test chamber.
  • Portacount®, which uses ambient aerosol and doesn’t require a test chamber.
  • Controlled negative pressure, a test that creates a vacuum by temporarily cutting off air.

QNFTs use the same seven exercises as QLFTs, plus an additional “grimace” test where the subject smiles or frowns for 15 seconds.

Fit tests should be performed per OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1310.134:

  • Prior to the first time an employee uses a respirator.
  • Whenever a different size, style, model or make of respirator is used.
  • At least annually.
  • When an employee’s weight fluctuates significantly or any other facial changes occur that could affect fit.

See below demonstrations for how to wear different respirators and appropriate seal checks.

Filtering Facepiece Respirator - Valved & Non-Valved:

Wear it Right.png

Half Facepiece Reusable Respirators:

7500 Half facepiece.png

4 Strap Full Facepiece Respirators:

4 Strap Full Facepiece.png Reference: www.3m.com

 Voluntary Use Respirators

UWSP allows the voluntary use of only filtering facepiece respirators (N95). This may occur even where an exposure assessment shows that respirator use is not required.

The voluntary use of filtering facepiece respirators in work atmospheres which are not hazardous does not require the respirator wearer to be medically evaluated or fit tested.

Before using a filtering facepiece respirator voluntarily contact Risk Management - EHS. EHS will ensure that its use does not present a health hazard to you.

Employers are not required to pay for filtering facepiece respirators used voluntarily by employees. If the UWSP determines that any voluntary respirator use is permissible, UWSP will provide the respirator user(s) with the information contained in OSHA 1910.134 Appendix D of the standard (Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under the Standard). 

 Respirator Training & Maintenance

Annual training is an important (and OSHA-mandated) piece of the respiratory safety program. OSHA states that, at a minimum, training should include:

OSHA Requirements

  • Why employees need to use the respirator.
  • What the respirator can and cannot do to help protect them.
  • How to properly inspect, put on and take off, and use their respirators.
  • How to perform a “user seal check” on their respirators.
  • How to use the respirator effectively in emergency situations, including what to do if it doesn't work properly.
  • How to recognize medical signs and symptoms that may limit or prevent workers from using a respirator.
  • How improper fit, usage or maintenance can reduce the respirator’s ability to protect them.
  • The procedures for maintenance and storage of the respirator.
  • The requirements for federal/state OSHA respiratory protection standards.

Click 3M N95 User Instructions.pdf for N95 maintenance and storage instructions. For other respirators, please review instructions below.

Respirator Maintenance


  • Prohibiting conditions that could cause seal leakage, like facial hair.
  • Enforcing the practice of performing a user seal check each time workers put on the respirator.
  • Making sure employees keep their respirator on and operating effectively while in hazardous environments.

If air-purifying respirators are used, they may have an end-of-service-life indicator (ESLI) certified by NIOSH for the contaminant.

End-of-service-life indicator (ESLI).pngIf 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.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

OSHA 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.

  • Respirators used exclusively by an employee: as often as necessary to be sanitary.
  • Respirators used by more than one employee: before it’s worn by a different person.
  • Emergency-use respirators: after each use.
  • Respirators used in fit testing and training: after each use.

Identification of Equipment

All filters, cartridges and canisters are labeled and color coded with the NIOSH approval label. The label should not be removed and must remain legible.      


All respirators should be stored to protect them from damage, contamination, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture and damaging chemicals. Make sure the way they’re packed doesn’t distort the facepiece and exhalation valve and that they are not hung by their straps.     


Make sure to have your respirators inspected before each use and during cleaning. Respirator inspections should include a check of:

  • Respirator function.
  • Tightness of connections.
  • Pliability of elastomeric parts.
  • The condition of the various parts including the facepiece, head straps, valves, connecting tube, cartridges, canisters or filters.

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. OSHA states that:

  • Only workers trained to do so can make repairs or adjustments to respirators.
  • You should use only the respirator manufacturer’s NIOSH-approved parts. Multiple manufacturer parts cannot be used in one respirator system and doing so will void NIOSH approval and is an OSHA citable offense.
  • Repairs should be made according to the manufacturer's recommendations and specifications for the type and extent of repairs to be performed.
  • Reducing and admission valves, regulators, and alarms should be adjusted or repaired only by the manufacturer or a trained technician.

Reference: www.3m.com

 Clinic Fit-Test Instructions

An initial medical evaluation, and annual training and fit testing, are required for any employee using any type of respirator. Each employee should get medical clearance first before fit testing.

The cost of fit testing service is $44.7 per respirator and $39 for medical evaluation questionnaire review for respirator clearance.


For your fit testing appointment:

  • Not eat, smoke, chew gum, or drink 15 minutes before testing.
  • Not have any facial hair that interferes with the seal of the respirator on the day of fit testing.
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Apply to UW-Stevens Point


Filtering Facepiece Respirator - Valved & Non-Valved
Filtering Facepiece Respirator - Valved & Non-Valved Fitting Instruction
4-Strap Full Facepiece Respirator
4 Strap Full Facepiece Respirator Fitting Instruction
Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator Fitting Instruction
Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator Fitting Instruction

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OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard during the pandemic


 Image Resources: Worksite Medical, OSHA, CDC, 3M