By MSA Safety

How can workplace fatalities and injuries be reduced or, in a perfect world, be totally eradicated? That is precisely what standards are designed to accomplish. Standards are rules designed to provide a work environment free from known dangers or hazards. These standards require the use of certain safe practices and equipment, and require employers to monitor hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses. Often, these rules are trade specific and self-imposed by industry-related societies or committees. Some standards, however, are mandatory, but it is often difficult to discern which require compliance.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

In the United States, NIOSH is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. OSHA, on the other hand, is the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. Compliance with OSHA’s standards is mandatory and is stringently enforced. In 1970, Congress created both NIOSH and OSHA in an effort to secure safe and healthy working conditions by establishing and enforcing standards that designate the methods that employers must use to protect their employees.

NIOSH conducts scientific research, develops guidance and authoritative recommendations, disseminates information, and responds to requests for workplace health hazard evaluations.1 OSHA standards include requirements to provide fall protection; prevent trenching cave ins; prevent some infectious diseases; assure that workers safely enter confined spaces, prevent exposure to harmful substances like asbestos; put guards on machines; provide respirators or other safety equipment; and provide training for certain dangerous jobs.2

American National Standards Institute (ANSI):

Another driving force in the regulatory arena is ANSI. As a voice of the United States standards and conformity assessment system, ANSI’s mission statement asserts it was established to enhance both the global competitiveness of U.S. business and the U.S. quality of life by promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems, and safeguarding their integrity, in an effort to protect workers.3

A working knowledge of applicable standards is critical to a company’s continued success. However, understanding your requirements to comply isn’t necessarily easy. Our hopes are to simplify that process for you in regards to both OSHA and ANSI standards pertaining to the proper protection of respirator users. The intent of this article is to help make compliance easier, faster, and more economical.

First, we’ll explore OSHA 29 CFR Part 1910.134, geared towards Personal Protective Equipment, specifically Respiratory Equipment.

OSHA 29 CFR Part 1910.134:

In the presence of possible industrial breathing contaminants, a respirator must be provided to each employee to protect the health and wellbeing of said employee. Employers are required to provide respirators specifically designed for the purpose intended. An important stipulation is the establishment and maintenance of a respiratory protection program which has definite requirements. Below, please view a “decision tree” that offers a simplified approach to determining how best to comply.


To help you to better understand OSHA standard, 29 CFR Part 1910.134, please visit You’ll find an overview of the standard with examples of forms that may be useful in complying.

The Fundamentals of Respirator Selection   

The fundamental goal of any respiratory protection program is to control occupational diseases and injuries caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smoke, sprays, and/or vapors. The defense against these contaminants is simple: Keep them out of the air that workers breathe. Always implement engineering and/or administrative controls first. If contaminants still present a hazard, you must provide appropriate respiratory protection for every employee who might be exposed to them.

Employers must follow the requirements of NIOSH and OSHA regulations, both the general regulations which apply to all workplaces and the specific regulations for exposures. According to program details in OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134), standard operating procedures governing the selection and use of respirators provide several key fundamentals.

These are:

  • A written plan detailing how the program will be administered;
  • A complete assessment and knowledge of respiratory hazards that will be encountered in the workplace;
  • Procedures and equipment to control respiratory hazards, including the use of engineering controls and work practices designed to limit or reduce employee exposures to such hazards;
  • Guidelines for the proper selection of appropriate respiratory protective equipment;
  • An employee training program covering hazard recognition, the dangers associated with respiratory hazards, and proper care and use of respiratory protective equipment;
  • Inspection, maintenance, and repair of respiratory protective equipment;
  • Medical surveillance of employees.

Compliance Made Easy with Manufacturers Tools

Proper protection of respirator users is the overall goal of a respirator program. Most respirator manufacturers have tools designed to simplify the process of developing, administering, and maintaining a respiratory protection program in a work environment.

Some examples are:

  • Respirator Selection Guide
  • Cartridge Life Expectancy Calculator
  • Interactive Training Program

Respirator Selection Guide

The purpose of a Respirator Selection Guide is to offer a compilation of a broad range of respiratory protective products to help you to determine which respiratory solution best fits your specific requirements. Not only does the Respirator Selector Guide encompass your various choices in respirator options, but it will offer guidance on choosing the correct cartridges and/or filters. The most important factor in determining the best respirator for your individual needs is to understand your environmental factors involved through proper air sampling. Respirator and cartridge selection are determined by the following factors: The results of your air sampling program; the accepted NIOSH, OSHA or ACGIH exposure limits for contaminants; and the maximum use concentration of those substances.

Cartridge Life Expectancy Calculator

The Cartridge Life Expectancy Calculator is an interactive means to help determine when a specific cartridge should be replaced, based on length of use and concentration. OSHA requires respirator cartridge replacement on a fixed, predetermined schedule to avoid ‘time of break through’. Breaking through occurs when the hazardous chemical ‘breaks through’ the cartridge without being absorbed or collected by the protective barrier. The following information is needed to adequately utilize a Cartridge Life Expectancy Calculator:

  • Chemical Hazard
  • Exposure and concentration
  • Temperature
  • Relative Humidity
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • What type of a respirator are you using
  • Type of work and average breathing rate
  • Breakthrough concentration preference

Interactive Training Program

Most respirator manufacturers now offer training programs in CD format and/or online through their websites. As part of an effective interactive training program, online courses are available to inform users about the respirator, how to wear it, and how to maintain it. These programs are a necessity as OSHA requires an employee training program on these topics. Online classes offer ease of use since it is available 24 hours a day, and end-users can be trained when it is convenient.

Users should also consider consulting manufacturers for recommendations or with any questions on specific products.

Consensus ANSI standards

The ANSI Z88 Committee on Respiratory Protection has a voluntary consensus standard entitled, “Standard Practices for Respiratory Protection” ANSI/AIHA Z88.2. This standard is of special interest because it addresses the question of assigned protection factors (APF). APFs are the main factor used by thousands of employers when they select respirators to protect workers from different airborne hazards. The ANSI standard recommends protective factors that are very similar to those in OSHA’s proposal, except for a more conservative APF for filtering facepieces (disposable respirators).

The standard also addresses other issues of key importance to the proper use of respiratory protection in the workplace and of interest to stakeholders, including:

  • Requirements for respiratory protection programs;
  • Standard operating procedures for programs;
  • Selection, limitation, and use of respirators;
  • Training;
  • Fit testing;
  • Maintenance, inspection, storage, and disposal;
  • Breathing air and oxygen-deficient atmospheres;

Interested parties can obtain additional information about this standard or other activities of the ANSI Z88 Committee on Respiratory Protection by visiting

In conclusion, there are various avenues that can help you with the trials and tribulation of respiratory standard compliance. To stay current on the standards that pertain to your industry and specific work environment, it is ALWAYS in your best interest to turn to the NIOSH and OSHA websites first. Contacting the manufacturer of your equipment can also be of benefit. OSHA’s website is and NIOSH’s website is for additional information.



1 “About NIOSH,” n.d., (accessed December 14, 2011).

2 “About OSHA,” n.d., (accessed December 14, 2011)

3 “About ANSI Overview,” n.d., December 14, 2011).