Survey of Respirator Use and Practices
Respirator Use and Practices in Transportation Equipment Manufacturing Establishments: Results of a National Survey of Private Sector Employers
In 2001, the Survey of Respirator Use and Practices gathered information on respirator use from 40,002 randomly selected U.S. establishments.1 The survey collected data on the types of respiratory protection used by workers at an establishment, types of respirator fit tests performed, and presence of substances that prompted the decision to use respiratory protection.
The findings of the survey raised questions regarding respirator usage practices and how these practices compare with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations2 and NIOSH recommendations.3
OSHA Respirator Program Requirements
Each of the indicators listed below (developed on the basis of OSHA requirements2 and NIOSH recommendations3) is an important part of an effective respirator program. If the answer to any of these questions is no, it may indicate that an operation’s overall quality of respiratory protection is inadequate and improvements may be needed:
• Does the program include a trained respirator program administrator?
• Has management adopted a written respirator program that determines how respirators are used?
• Does the program include written procedures for maintaining respirators?
• Are wearers of tight-fitting respirators fit tested?
• Are employees assessed for medical fitness to wear respirators?
• Does the program provide training regarding the need, use, limitations, and capabilities of respirators?
• Do written procedures include a periodical evaluation of the effectiveness of respirators used at the establishment?
• Are airline respirator couplings incompatible with other gas systems at the establishment?
• Does the program require use of the manufacturer user’s instructions or NIOSH certification labels to adjust the airflow for airline respirators?
• Is there a written change-out schedule for air-purifying gas/vapor filters?
• Are dust masks used (filtering-facepiece respirators) to protect only against dusts, but not gases or vapors?
This report focuses on information from the survey for establishments in the Transportation Equipment manufacturing industry, which is comprised of motor vehicles, aircraft, ships, boats, and railroad equipment (Standard Industrial Classification 37).4
Findings and Discussion
Approximately 29% or an estimated 4,080 establishments in the Transportation Equipment manufacturing industry used respirators for required purposes. This percentage (29%) was higher than its parent industry of Manufacturing (12.8%) and All Private Industry (4.5%). Among the types of respirators used, air-supplied respirators were used in 9.3% of Transportation Equipment establishments compared to 0.7% of All Private Industry establishments.1 Also, employees in Transportation Equipment used respirators in greater proportions than employees in All Private Industry as a whole (6.5% versus 3.1%).
Operations in Transportation Equipment (e.g., abrasive blasting, sanding, welding, grinding, chipping, and spray painting) can result in exposures to airborne contaminants and agents. For example, workers can be exposed to metal fumes from welding and thermal cutting; silica dust (sand) from abrasive blasting; solvents from metal cleaning; and solvents and isocyanates from painting and coating metals.5 These exposures are associated with various respiratory conditions. For example, exposure to silica (a component in sand and in rocks like sandstone and granite) can cause silicosis,6,7 exposure to isocyanates (a common component of vehicle paint and primer) can cause asthma,7–10 and exposure to metalworking fluids may cause lung diseases.11,12 While the survey did not allow determination of particular substances that prompted respirator use within the Transportation Equipment industry, it did provide such information for its parent industry, Manufacturing. Dust, paint vapors, solvents, welding fumes, and silica dust were the substances for which respirators were most frequently used (Figure 1). The types of substances in Transportation Equipment manufacturing most likely include those listed in the Manufacturing industry (Figure 1).
Of the respirator-using Transportation Equipment establishments, 63%, or an estimated 2,600 establishments, had three or more indicators of a potentially inadequate respiratory protection program (Figure 2) as measured against OSHA respirator program requirements and NIOSH recommendations listed in the previous section. An indicator is the lack of one of these respiratory protection program features. OSHA recognized the problem with improper respirator use in this industry. From October 2005 through September 2006, OSHA conducted 90 inspections among Transportation Equipment establishments and issued 217 citations for respiratory protection.13
The survey findings are subject to some limitations. Public sector, self-employed, and agriculture establishments with less than 11 workers were not included in the survey. Although the instructions stated that the person most familiar with respiratory protection should complete the questionnaire, this may not have always happened. In spite of the cognitive and field testing of the survey at small, medium, and large establishments prior to its mailing, recipients may have misinterpreted the written questions. The survey was not designed to collect exposure information specifically for Transportation Equipment. However, the operations and exposure types are similar to those in Manufacturing.
Respiratory Protection Program Consultation Service
Employers who suspect their respiratory protection program is in need of improvement should consider contacting the OSHA free confidential consultation service available for small businesses in every state. OSHA also has a Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard available at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/secgrev-current.pdf. Another resource is the American Industrial Hygiene Association list of consultants at http://www.aiha.org/Content/AccessInfo/consult/consultlisting.htm.
Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
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2. OSHA . Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134.
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4. Office of Management and Budget . Standard Industrial Classification Manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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11. NIOSH . Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Metalworking Fluids. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-102 pp 44–48. www.cdc.gov/niosh/98-102.html (accessed February 15, 2007).
12. NIOSH  NIOSH Safety and Health Topic: Metalworking Fluids. www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/metalworking/ (accessed February 15, 2007).
13. OSHA . Industry Profile for an OSHA Standard. Available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/industryprofile.html (Accessed May 23, 2007).