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Understanding OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard: A Comprehensive Guide


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency responsible for ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees across the United States. One of the many standards set forth by OSHA is the Respiratory Protection Standard, which can be found in their publication titled “OSHA 3079: Information on Respirators“. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, its requirements, and its implications for employers and employees.


OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) is designed to protect employees from hazardous atmospheres in the workplace. These hazards may include toxic gases, vapors, fumes, dust, and other contaminants that can cause severe health issues or death if inhaled. The standard requires employers to establish and maintain an effective respiratory protection program when respirators are necessary to protect workers from workplace hazards.

Respiratory Protection Program Requirements

Employers are responsible for implementing a comprehensive respiratory protection program. Key components of the program include:

  1. Hazard Assessment: Employers must conduct a hazard assessment to identify and evaluate respiratory hazards in the workplace. This includes assessing the type, concentration, and duration of exposure to hazardous substances.
  2. Respirator Selection: Based on the hazard assessment, employers must select appropriate respirators for employees. The selection process should consider factors such as the nature of the hazard, the protection factor provided by the respirator, and compatibility with other personal protective equipment (PPE).
  3. Medical Evaluation: Before employees are assigned a respirator, they must undergo a medical evaluation to ensure they are physically capable of wearing the device without adverse health effects.
  4. Fit Testing: Employees must be fit-tested to ensure the selected respirator provides a proper seal and adequate protection. Fit testing should be conducted at least annually or whenever a different respirator is selected.
  5. Training: Employers must provide comprehensive training for employees on the proper use, care, and maintenance of respirators. Training should cover topics such as why the respirator is necessary, how to properly don and doff the respirator, and the limitations of the device.
  6. Maintenance and Care: Employers must establish procedures for the proper cleaning, disinfection, storage, and maintenance of respirators. This includes inspecting respirators for damage and replacing worn or defective parts.
  7. Program Evaluation: Employers must regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the respiratory protection program and make necessary adjustments to ensure ongoing compliance with OSHA standards.

Types of Respirators

OSHA categorizes respirators into two main types: air-purifying and atmosphere-supplying.

  1. Air-Purifying Respirators (APRs): These respirators remove contaminants from the air by filtering them through a filter or cartridge. APRs are divided into particulate respirators, gas and vapor respirators, and combination respirators.
  2. Atmosphere-Supplying Respirators: These respirators supply clean air to the user from an uncontaminated source. They are divided into self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), airline respirators, and combination airline/SCBA systems.

Respirator Approval and Certification

OSHA requires respirators to be approved and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH-certified respirators have been tested and meet specific performance standards. Employers must ensure that employees only use NIOSH-certified respirators.

Voluntary Use of Respirators

In some cases, employees may choose to wear respirators even if they are not required by OSHA standards. In these situations, employers must still provide training on the proper use and limitations of the respirator and ensure that the device is cleaned, maintained, and stored correctly. Employers must also ensure that the voluntary use of respirators does not create additional hazards for the employee.

Emergency Use of Respirators

Employers must establish procedures for the emergency use of respirators in situations where employees may be exposed to unforeseen respiratory hazards. These procedures should include selecting appropriate respirators for emergency use, designating trained personnel responsible for providing and maintaining emergency respirators, and training employees on the proper use of emergency respirators.


OSHA requires employers to maintain records of specific aspects of the respiratory protection program. These records include medical evaluations, fit test results, and written copies of the respiratory protection program. Employers must ensure that these records are maintained and available for review by OSHA inspectors or employees upon request.



The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard plays a critical role in protecting employees from hazardous atmospheres in the workplace. By understanding the requirements of the standard and implementing a comprehensive respiratory protection program, employers can minimize the risk of occupational illnesses and injuries associated with respiratory hazards. Employees should be proactive in learning about the proper use and care of respirators and participate in the training provided by their employers. Together, employers and employees can create a safer working environment and promote overall health and well-being.