As seen above, Respiratory Protection is a part of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used to keep one safe when working in a harmful/dangerous environment. As with ANY PPE used – It should always be the last resort. The Hierarchy of control measures go from most desirable option to least – We will use COVID19 as an example of what we could do with this control as follows:
1. Elimination – This would be staying at home to ensure you are not exposed to the virus at all (Lock-down level 5)
2. Substitution – None identified as of yet (If humans were capable of breathing underwater it would be interesting to establish whether substituting Direct Oxygen for Oxygen through water would eliminate the spread of the virus though, in my opinion)
3. Engineering Controls – These would be things like Getting Vaccinated, Disinfecting Areas with appropriate disinfectants, Screens between persons (customer and teller etc.)
4. Administrative Controls – Examples here could be Enforce social distancing of a minimum of 2meters, maybe putting markers on a floor where there are queues or Encouraging appropriate hand hygiene like washing hands for 20-30 seconds with soap and then supporting that with posters which discourage the touching of eyes, nose, mouth and face. Another great example could be training of all of the above to ensure all parties involved understand the risk linked to each of these controls.
5. Personal Protective Equipment – The last resort here would be the wearing of appropriate face masks which would stop the virus from entering the wearers respiratory system – I believe with COVID the PPE assisted a step further in also reducing the chance of the wearer further spreading the Virus.
We can see how the hierarchy is approached on a larger scale if we compare the countries who have a significant portion of their country vaccinated, such as the UK who have over 60% fully vaccinated. They have already determined that the use of Masks in open areas are no longer required which means that the Level 3 Control is now removing the need for Level 5 Control.
Now that the Hierarchy of Control is out the way let’s discuss the topic at hand, understanding the use of Respiratory Protection in a workplace.
Respiratory protection’s purpose is to protect the user from the inhalation of hazardous substances in an environment. In basic terms as per the example above, ensuring COVID does not enter the Respiratory System – This in a work place would more likely be Dust, Mist, Fumes or Fibers.
Depending on the risk encountered in the area which requires a form of Respiratory Protection Equipment the workplace will need to be surveyed by an Occupational Hygienist who will then provide the company with information as to what the risks and hazards found. From there it is for the Employer to ensure appropriate solutions are implements (Hierarchy of Controls).
If the control ends up being to wear appropriate PPE, which unfortunately it does most times, it would be on the company to provide this to the staff working in these areas.
There are 3 kinds of Respiratory Protective Equipment which can be used in areas which ARE NOT Oxygen Deficient – We will tackle Oxygen Deficiency in upcoming articles.
Here are a couple different examples of Respiratory Protection Equipment.
If you are interested in better understanding what each product is designed and used for check our ‘Respiratory Protection Options’ (this is what the next article covers).