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Three simple questions to help assess respiratory safety hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to identify and evaluate the potential for respiratory hazard exposure in the workplace. The nature and magnitude of employee exposure must be measured before selecting respiratory protection equipment for your workers.

OSHA has outlined three questions that employers should answer when completing this evaluation process.

When must an employer conduct an exposure assessment?
Examples of when hazards should be assessed include anytime OSHA issues a substance-specific standard or when workers bring signs of respiratory hazards to an attention. Some signs may be odor or irritation of the nose and throat.

What is the identity and nature of the airborne contaminant?
Employers should then identify if the contaminant is a particulate, such as dust or aerosol, a gas or vapor, or a biological airborne contaminant. Once determined, the occupational exposure levels of the contaminate should be assessed.

How much employee exposure is there in the workplace?
Once the contaminant has been identified, it is important to make a "reasonable estimate" of the amount of exposure faced by workers through personal exposure monitoring and sampling. Sampling should use methods appropriate for the contaminant, and present the worst case exposure or represent enough shifts and operations to determine the range of exposure. Accounting for possible variations in exposure, should include the highest foreseeable employee exposure levels.

Once when, what, and how much have been determined, a company should select what kind of respiratory protection equipment is required. As with any workplace safety assessment, a review of all safety products in use should also be done to maximize worker safety.  

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