Hazardous Waste Operations

Focus on HAZWOPER Respiratory Protection

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is celebrating respiratory protection this year on Tuesday, September 6. It’s called N95 Day for users of N95 level filtering respirators. In the spirit of N95 Day, we will take this opportunity to focus on respiratory protection requirements specific to hazardous waste operations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER) regulations contain respiratory protection requirements that are specific to hazardous waste sites and for emergency response, and for protection against substances that are not regulated under the ventilation and toxic and hazardous substances rules.

Four Levels of Protection

HAZWOPER regulations contain four levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) required to protect workers under various site conditions. This article focuses on the respirator requirements for the four levels.

Level A site conditions require PPE that should be worn when the highest level of respiratory, skin, and eye protection is needed (i.e., for use with highly toxic releases, such as chlorine or ammonia). The requirements for respirators at Level A sites are that they be positive-pressure, full face piece, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), or positive-pressure, supplied air respirator with escape SCBA, approved by NIOSH.

Level B site conditions require PPE that should be worn when the highest level of respiratory protection is needed, but a lesser degree of skin protection is needed (i.e., protects against splash hazards posed by acids or caustics).

The requirements for respirators at Level B sites are the same as for Level A sites, i.e., positive-pressure SCBA or positive-pressure, supplied air respirator with escape SCBA (NIOSH-approved).

Level C site conditions require PPE that should be worn when the next highest level of respiratory protection is needed after Level B. The requirements for respirators at Level C sites are that they be NIOSH-approved, full-face or half-mask, air-purifying respirators.

Level D site conditions require only a work uniform affording minimal protection and not at any site with respiratory hazards. Therefore, there are no respirator requirements for Level D sites.

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