Personal Protective Equipment

Breathe Easier with Proper Respirator Care

In order to control or eliminate breathing hazards, OSHA has adopted respiratory protection regulations for general industry (except agriculture), shipyards, marine terminals, longshoring, and construction workplaces and for specific air contaminants. Today we’ll focus on the requirements concerning respirator inspection, maintenance, storage, and repair.

OSHA estimates that its respirator regulation could save as many as 900 lives and prevent more than 4,000 injuries and illnesses every year.

Summary of Requirements

OSHA’s respiratory protection regulation applies to virtually any situation that requires respirator use in any industry except agriculture. The regulation requires:

  • A written respiratory protection plan with worksite-specific procedures

  • Appropriate respirators, certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and matched to the identified respiratory hazards in that workplace

  • Medical evaluation of each employee by confidential questionnaire or exam before being assigned to wear a respirator

  • Respirator fit testing for each employee assigned to wear a respirator with a negative- or positive-pressure tight-fitting face piece

  • Training employees on why and how to select, use, fit, maintain, and store respirators

  • Periodic evaluation of the respiratory protection program’s elements to be sure they are protecting employees

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Try Engineering Controls First

To control atmospheric contamination or oxygen deficiency, employers must first use accepted engineering control measures. These measures include processes such as enclosure or confinement of an operation, general and local ventilation, and substitution of less toxic materials. Where these engineering controls are not in place or are not feasible, appropriate respirators must be used by employees.

Respirator Inspection, Maintenance, Storage, and Repair

Respirators used during routine work must be inspected before each use and during cleaning. Self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) also must be inspected monthly and air and oxygen cylinders maintained in a fully charged state.


A respirator inspection must cover:

  • Proper functioning

  • Tight connections

  • Face piece, head straps, valves, connecting tube, cartridges/canisters/filters in good condition

  • Pliable elastomeric parts with no deterioration

Respirators used for emergencies must be inspected at least monthly and before and after each use. A signed, dated tag or label must be used to record the inspection and findings and any remedial action. Emergency escape-only respirators must be inspected before they are carried into the workplace for use. Respirators that fail inspection must be removed from service. If they can’t be repaired, they must be discarded.

Maintenance (cleaning and disinfection)

Employers must provide respirators that are clean, sanitary, and in good working order. The respirators must be cleaned and disinfected using the procedures in Appendix B-2 of the respiratory protection rule, or procedures recommended by the respirator manufacturer if such procedures are of equivalent effectiveness. They must be cleaned and disinfected as often as necessary to keep them in a sanitary condition. Respirators issued to more than one employee must be cleaned and disinfected before being worn by different individuals. Respirators maintained for emergency use fit testing and training must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.


Respirators must be stored in a way that will not deform the face piece or exhalation valve. In addition, storage must protect respirators from damage, contamination, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, and damaging chemicals. The respirators used for emergencies must also be clearly identified as such and kept where you have easy access to them from the work area.

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Only trained persons may make repairs or adjustments to respirators. Repairs or adjustments to respirators are to be made only by persons appropriately trained to perform such operations and must use only the respirator manufacturer’s NIOSH-approved parts designed for the respirator.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the training requirements of OSHA’s respiratory protection regulation and at a resource that will help you meet those mandates.