Several types of occupational diseases are caused by breathing contaminated air, and breathing oxygen-deficient air can cause death. In order to control or eliminate breathing hazards, OSHA has adopted respiratory protection regulations for general industry workplaces and for specific air contaminants. The regulation also deals with respirators in IDLH atmospheres, including fire fighting. It covers substances that are dangerous when inhaled (e.g., asbestos, lead, benzene) as well as processes and activities related to airborne hazards (e.g., ventilation, fire fighting, and welding). OSHA estimates that its respirator regulation could save as many as 900 lives and prevent more than 4,000 injuries and illnesses every year.
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EPA pesticide protection requirements. EPA regulations require workers to wear respirators in restricted-entry areas that have been treated with pesticides. There are no additional respiratory protection requirements under EPA rules; all employers must comply with OSHA requirements.
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