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Tuesday, 18 July 2017 21:14

Respiratory Protection: Assessing Your Shop’s Needs

Written by Donald J. Garvey, CIH, CSP, Construction Industrial Hygienist, 3M Personal Safety Division

Index

Auto body shop workers risk potential exposure to a wide variety of respiratory hazards. These include paints, fillers and solvents, dusts from sanding, metal fumes from welding and cutting, isocyanates, etc. It is a lot to safeguard against to ensure a shop is productive and safe.

 

Shop owners must identify, understand and protect their workers from these hazards by using engineering controls, such as local exhaust ventilation systems. However, when engineering controls are insufficient, workers must be protected with various forms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and training. Often, one of the more intimidating types of hazards to safeguard your team against is a chemical hazard requiring respiratory protection.

 

Unlike many other safety hazards, respiratory protection is a health concern. The effects of workers breathing in airborne hazards can lead to serious health complications, many with signs or symptoms that may not immediately appear after the exposure has taken place. As a result, protecting workers from airborne hazards requires more than simply handing out respirators. This article will address the respiratory protection needs common in the auto body industry, with some suggestions on how to create a respiratory protection program.

 

Begin with an Assessment


Conducting a respiratory exposure assessment and utilizing the results to design an effective respiratory protection plan for an auto body shop is a science. It can seem like a complicated science when you factor in everything that goes into developing and creating a respiratory protection plan: initial review of potential hazards, measurements, evaluation of those measurements, selection of controls, their implementation and assessment of their effectiveness, and other factors.

 

Despite the perceived complexity, every site should evaluate the respiratory protection needs of their crew. To make this process easier, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has published a five-part cyclic process to help guide an exposure assessment (1).

 

The following is only an overview of the exposure assessment process. A safety and health professional such as a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) should be consulted for a more complete review of the process and assistance in its proper implementation.

 

Exposure Assessment


Employers are required by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to evaluate respiratory hazards in the workplace. An independent consultant, workers compensation insurer loss control representative or in-house health and safety professional trained in exposure assessment methods can evaluate workplace hazards. They need to determine:


* What hazards are present (e.g. isocyanates in paints)
* Exposure levels
* Whether or not those levels are acceptable compared to OSHA or other good practice occupational exposure limits (OEL)

 

Any time there are changes in the workplace that could result in new or altered exposures, a new assessment needs to be conducted. Changes in the workplace, such as utilizing water-based or two-part cyanoacrylate paints, could involve new equipment, processes, products or control measures.

 

Hazard Control Evaluation


If the assessment shows that exposure levels of airborne contaminants are outside of the OSHA limits, the respiratory protection program administrator (see next section) should first see if the exposure can be controlled through engineering controls (e.g. elimination, substitution, or local exhaust ventilation) or administrative controls (e.g. use of relief workers, rotation of workers or work breaks). If there is no way to effectively reduce the exposure to acceptable levels, respiratory protection must be provided.

 

Respiratory Protection – Getting Started

 

US OSHA in 29 CFR 1910.134 details the requirements for a respiratory program. Employers who will be using respirators at their facility must read and understand these regulations.

 

These regulations require the employer to designate a respirator program administrator. This person will be responsible for overseeing the proper and safe use of respirators at the facility. Respirator manufacturers, workers compensation loss control departments, local safety councils and independent safety consultants may be able to supply the necessary training for both the program administrator and the actual respirator users.

 

A written program is also required by OSHA and is a core component to an effective and complete respiratory protection program.

 

Per 29 CFR 1910.134, the written program must address worksite-specific procedures for:

 

• Respirator selection
• Medical evaluation of the wearer
• Fit testing
• Use of respirators in both routine and emergency situations
• Maintenance, cleaning, disposal and care of the respirators
• Assuring adequate air quality if supplied air respirators are used
• Training of the worker on the respiratory hazards they may encounter and the proper use, care and maintenance of the respirator they will use
• Program evaluation to ensure proper functioning


Respiratory Selection


After identifying the hazards, the exposure levels from the exposure assessment must be compared to the permissible exposure limit, or PEL, as set by OSHA to determine if respiratory protection is needed. Occupational exposure limits (OEL) are good practice recommendations set by product manufacturers. Other professional societies can also be considered if exposure levels are below the PEL.


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