How to maintain and take care of respirators?
Once respirators have been properly selected for each employer, it is important for the employer to ensure that every respirator is working correctly at all times. Since respirators are expected to be worn very frequently, the conditions of the workplace may compromise their effectiveness, and thus the safety and health of the workers. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the employer to have a maintenance and care program for the use of respirators. Here are the main aspects to be considered for keeping respirators in good conditions.
- Requirements: According to OSHA’s standard, employers must provide the workers with respirators that are clean, sanitary, and that work properly. Before using any respirators in the workplace, a maintenance program must be set in place in order to ensure that they deliver effective protection. All programs need to include: cleaning and disinfecting, storage, periodic inspections and methods of repair. In other words, all respirators must always work as if they were new.
- Cleaning and disinfecting: Some contaminants such as dusts, mists and fumes, can build-up on the seal or inside the respirator, thus compromising the seal functionality and the respirator materials’ integrity, which can reduce the level of protection it can provide. For full-facepieces respirators, proper cleaning is essential to ensure that the user can see through the respirator. In case a respirator is for the exclusive use of a certain employee, cleaning and disinfection should be performed as often as possible to maintain it in good conditions. But in case a respirator is used by different persons, it must be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Respirators can be cleaned and disinfected following OSHA’s procedures or the ones recommended by the manufacturer as long as they are as effective as the OSHA method.
- Storage: Respirators must be stored in a place where they remain protected against contamination, damage, sunlight, excessive moisture, extreme temperatures and other damaging elements. Storage method must prevent deformation and material degradation. Emergency-use respirators must be stored in an accessible space but not in the area where an emergency can occur. In addition, emergency respirators need to be stored in compartments explicitly marked to indicate they contain emergency respirators.
- Inspection: Regular inspection is obligatory in order to ensure stable reliability of respirators. Depending on the intended use for each respiratory equipment, the frequency and procedure of inspection can vary. For all respirators, inspection procedures must include a check of function, tightness of connections, and condition of all parts such as filters, tubes, valves, facepieces, etcetera. Non-emergency respirators must be inspected before each use and during cleaning. Emergency respirators must be inspected at least monthly. Escape-only respirators must be inspected before being carried to the workplace.
- Repair: Respirators that are found to be defective must be removed from service and discarded. In some cases, defective respirators can be repaired or adjusted. In this case, repairs or adjustments must be performed only by the manufacturer or trained personnel, and using exclusively NIOSH-approved parts designed for the respirator.
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