Human lung diagram for respiratory protection awareness

Respiratory protection is essential for millions of professionals across a wide range of industries from fabrication to healthcare - those who work in environments which expose them to dangerous levels of contaminants such as dust, fogs, fumes, gases, vapors, or mists. These well-known respiratory health hazards can lead to lung impairment, diseases like cancer, or death.

Considering the importance of respiratory protection and it's impact on the lives of so many, we wanted to assemble this two-part overview of respiratory protection in the workplace. In part 1, we identify the types of respirators most commonly used in industrial environments. Part 2 will take a closer look at the regulations governing their use.

Part 2: An Overview of Respiratory Protection Standards Types


Not only is protecting the health and safety of your workers the right thing to do – it is also the law.

OSHA maintains respiratory protection standards for general industry (29 CFR 1910.134), as well as shipyard employment, marine terminals, long shoring, and construction industries (all of which reference the general industry standard).  These standards include regulations regarding respirator provision and training on the work site such as:

  1. selection of appropriate respirators for use in the workplace;
  2. written respiratory protection program development and implementation;
  3. medical evaluations of employees prior to respirator use at work;
  4. employee training and retraining on effective use of respirators;
  5. cleaning, disinfecting, and storing respirators; and
  6. fit testing procedures for tight-fitting respirators.

The general requirements, which comprise section 1910.134(d)(1) of the standard, states that:

  1. “The employer shall select and provide an appropriate respirator based on the respiratory hazard(s) to which the worker is exposed and workplace and user factors that affect respirator performance and reliability.”
  2. “The employer shall select a NIOSH-certified respirator. The respirator shall be used in compliance with the conditions of its certification.”
  3. “The employer shall identify and evaluate the respiratory hazard(s) in the workplace; this evaluation shall include a reasonable estimate of employee exposures to respiratory hazard(s) and an identification of the contaminant's chemical state and physical form. Where the employer cannot identify or reasonably estimate the employee exposure, the employer shall consider the atmosphere to be IDLH.” IDLH stands for immediately dangerous to life or health.
  4. “The employer shall select respirators from a sufficient number of respirator models and sizes so that the respirator is acceptable to, and correctly fits, the user.”

OSHA also published a guide to understanding the assigned protection factors (APFs) and maximum use concentrations (MUCs) which are a core component of respiratory protection equipment selection. 

NIOSH-Certified Respirators

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) maintains a testing, approval, and certification program for respirators commonly used in the workplace, including air-purifying respirators and powered air-purifying respirators.  NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory publishes a Certified Equipment List of respirators for safety managers to select appropriate respirators for protection against various types of hazards ranging from abrasive blasting to pesticides.

  1. A searchable version of this list of NIOSH-certified respirators is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
  2. A detailed guide to identifying which respirator models meet NIOSH requirements is especially important information for safety managers ever since the CDC reported that some respirators bearing counterfeit NIOSH approval numbers were sold in North America in 2017.

Always remember to check for a NIOSH approval number on or within a respirator’s packaging. All of the respirator systems available on are NIOSH-certified.

Avoiding OSHA Fines for Respiratory Protection Violations

OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, usually appears in OSHA’s annual list of its top 10 most frequently cited standards following workplace inspections. During both the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, 29 CFR 1910.134 was the fourth most frequently cited OSHA standard. OSHA reported 3,118 Respiratory Protection Standard violations in 2018. This number only refers to federal enforcement citations; it does not include violations from state enforcement agency workplace inspections. With OSHA recently increasing its maximum penalty amounts at the beginning of 2019, employers have even more financial incentive to adhere to standards like 29 CFR 1910.134 than ever before.

One of the most frequently cited sections of the Respiratory Protection Standard is section 1910.134(f)(2), which states that:

  1. “The employer shall ensure that an employee using a tight-fitting facepiece respirator is fit tested prior to initial use of the respirator, whenever a different respirator facepiece (size, style, model or make) is used, and at least annually thereafter.”

    Section 1910.134(f)(3) of the Respiratory Protection Standard requires additional fit testing whenever an employee reports or is observed to have had a change in physical condition that could affect the fit of a tight-fitting respirator.  This includes facial scarring or body weight fluctuations.

    Whenever appropriate, using loose-fitting NIOSH-certified powered air-purifying respirators – which do not require fit testing – is one way to avoid fit test violation fines.


    Respiratory Protection Questions?

    We're Here For You

    Give us a call at (248) 221-8076 or contact us to discuss the respiratory protection compliance at the work place or job sites you are responsible for. We can answer questions, get you pointed in the right direction, arrange samples for evaluation, and work up competitive quotes. Be confident in ensuring your employees have access to the appropriate personal protective equipment that will keep them coming back to work healthy year after year.

    Source Links

    1. Respiratory Protection | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
    2. Respirator Types | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
    3. Respirator Protection - Standards | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
    4. Assigned Protection Factors for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
    5. Certified Equipment List Search Form | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    6. Respirator Trusted-Source Information | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
    7. Counterfeit Respirators or Misrepresentation of NIOSH Approval | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    8. Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for Fiscal Year 2018 (Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018) | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
    9. OSHA Penalties | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
    10. OSHA’s Top 10 Most-Cited Violations for Fiscal Year 2017 | Safety & Health Magazine
    11. OSHA Announces Top 10 Violations for FY 2018 | Occupational Health & Safety website