Respiratory Protection Program
Respiratory Protection Quick Links
The Respiratory Protection Program provides information on how Virginia Tech protects employees and students from hazardous exposures with the proper selection and use of respirators, and assures they are medically capable of wearing these devices safely. All respirator use at Virginia Tech must comply with the requirements of the Respiratory Protection Program.
Respirators are commonly used throughout the Virginia Tech campus by various departments. Faculty, staff, and students use them for protection against bioaerosols, asbestos fibers, welding fumes, wood dust, animal dander, nanomaterials, and many other sources of particulates and organic vapors. When effective engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation or chemical fume hoods are not available or do not provide effective capture of the contaminant to ensure the employee's personal exposure is below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), appropriate respiratory protection must be provided to the employee.
If you suspect that there are exposures of concern in your work area, the supervisor should complete a Respiratory Hazard Assessment (RHA). Either the RHA form may be used, or an RHA can be created in the EHS Safety Management System, which will then be routed to Environmental Health & Safety for review. (To do this in the SMS, click on the 'summary' tab, then the 'edit lab / tabs' button, check the 'medical services' box and then 'submit.' The RHA is found on the medical services tab. Environmental Health & Safetywill follow up with a discussion with the supervisor, visual observation of the task, and perform personal air monitoring if necessary to determine the potential for exposure to your employees. Those employees who are assigned a respirator must comply with the requirements outlined in the Respiratory Protection Program.
An employee who is not exposed above OSHA PELs, but chooses to wear a respirator for his or her own comfort, must still comply with certain elements of this program. If you are a voluntary user of a respirator, or if you have employees in your workgroup that use respirators and have not consulted with Environmental Health & Safety, please call 540 231-2509 or email the program administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Respiratory Protection Online Program
The purpose of the Virginia Tech Respiratory Protection Program is to ensure the health and safety of all university employees and students who have the potential to be exposed to hazardous airborne contaminants or oxygen-deficient atmospheres that may cause injury or illness to the person during the course of their employment or research at Virginia Tech. Our primary goal is to minimize personal exposure to known hazards through the implementation of engineering controls (i.e., local exhaust ventilation, material substitution) and administrative controls (i.e., modification of work practices and procedures). Respiratory protection and other necessary personal protective equipment must be used when these controls are not feasible, are in the process of being implemented, or do not control the atmospheric concentrations of the contaminant below PELs. When respirators are used as specified, they can prevent fatalities and illnesses from both acute and chronic exposure to hazardous substances. The Respiratory Protection Program fulfills the requirements of 16 VAC 25-60-120 of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, and OSHA's standard 29 CFR 1910.134.
This program applies to all work performed by Virginia Tech employees where respiratory protection is used regardless of worksite location. Contractors performing work on campus shall comply with Safety Requirements for Contractors and Subcontractors. In addition, any employee who chooses to wear a tight-fitting respirator when a respirator is not required (e.g., a voluntary user), is subject to the medical evaluation, cleaning, maintenance, and storage elements of this program.
The Environmental Health & Safety respiratory program administrator will:
- Write, evaluate and update the written Respiratory Protection Program;
- Consult with respirator users and supervisors on technical issues related to respiratory protection;
- Coordinate with Environmental Health & Safety staff and the contract physician on employee enrollment in the Occupational Health Assurance Program;
- Provide assistance and regulatory guidance to academic departments, organizational units, supervisors, and respirator users upon request.
Organizational unit/academic departments/supervisors
Organizational units, academic departments and supervisors are responsible for:
- Identifying respiratory hazards that may affect their employees and students;
- Contacting Environmental Health & Safety to request an evaluation of potential exposure risks using either the Respirator Hazard Assessment (RHA) Form or by completing an RHA in the Environmental Health & Safety SMS;
- Assuring that all employees using respirators participate in the Respiratory Protection Program maintained by Environmental Health & Safety;
- Assuring that respirators are used and maintained in accordance with this program.
Respirator users are responsible for wearing respiratory protection when required and as instructed during fit testing and/or training. Respirator users must also:
- Complete the respirator medical evaluation questionnaire, attend the classroom or online training be fit-tested annually;
- Care and maintain their respirator as instructed and store it in a clean and sanitary location;
- Use only the brand and type of respirator for which the user was trained and fit tested;
- Inform their supervisor if the respirator no longer fits properly or if there are any problems related to the use of the respirator;
- Inform their supervisor of any respiratory hazard that they feel is not adequately addressed in the workplace;
Respirators for use in areas where biohazards are used or stored must be selected based on a review of the biohazardous agent, workstation design, standard operating procedures, and protocols. The Environmental Health & Safety biosafety officer will determine the appropriate biosafety levels for laboratories and will work with the industrial hygienists to determine the corresponding level of respiratory protection required.
Although airborne exposures to dust derived from animals are not currently regulated, there is a large body of evidence that handling animals can cause respiratory health problems such as asthma, allergic reactions, and sensitizations. It is the goal of Virginia Tech to prevent such occurrences and educate the employees about the available controls and personal protective equipment. Enrollment in the Respiratory Protection Program is available for any employee who chooses to wear a tight-fitting respirator in order to perform their job duties.
If Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) contaminant levels are known or suspected at any time, the area must be vacated and Environmental Health & Safety must be notified immediately. IDLH means an atmosphere that poses an immediate threat to life, would cause irreversible adverse health effects or would impair an individual's ability to escape from a dangerous atmosphere. No Virginia Tech employee is permitted to enter a space that might contain an IDLH situation unless additional training in the use of an SCBA or air-line respirator has been completed and an appropriately trained rescue team is standing by. If the area is a confined space, the atmosphere must be deemed safe before anyone can enter. The employee must have knowledge of confined spaces hazards, controls, and work practices. Please visit the Confined Spaces Program for information about confined spaces or call safety engineer at 540-231-2341.
Emergency escape respirators may be stored for work areas identified as having the potential for dangerous leaks or spills. Prior to assigning emergency response duties to employees, contact Environmental Health & Safety to establish appropriate SOPs, respirator inspection schedules, and emergency management planning. The supervisor for the area should ensure employees have received training on the proper use of the emergency respirators, inform staff where the emergency respirators are located, and under which conditions the use of such respirators are required.
Environmental Health & Safety will select appropriate respiratory protection in accordance with applicable regulations and based on the Respiratory Hazards Assessment form. This form, completed by either the supervisor/principal instructor/professor and/or Environmental Health & Safety, may be used in conjunction with Environmental Health & Safety observation of worker job tasks and/or personal monitoring to identify respiratory hazards of concern. After the hazard evaluation, Environmental Health & Safety personnel will recommend the type of respirator and cartridges to be used and discuss different options with the supervisor and the respirator user.
All respirators worn by Virginia Tech employees and students must be certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and must be used in accordance with the terms outlined by Environmental Health & Safety. All filters, cartridges, and canisters must be labeled with the appropriate NIOSH approval label that must not be removed or defaced at any time while the respirator is in use. Interchanging of respirator parts (valves, cartridges, air-tubes or hoses, etc.) is not permitted and voids the NIOSH certification for a given respirator.
Air-purifying respirators can be used when it is necessary to remove particulates and/or vapor and gas contaminants from the air and their concentration is within the maximum use concentration (MUC) of that respirator as determined by Environmental Health & Safety. For non-infectious bio-aerosols (bacteria, molds, allergens) and infectious bio-aerosols (viruses, pathogenic bacteria), respirator selection will be determined on a case-by-case basis. An N-series disposable filtering facepiece or a PAPR may be required.
Air-purifying respirators are not effective in oxygen-deficient atmospheres or in atmospheres that are Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH), and must not be used in these environments. PAPRs with HEPA filters do not protect against chemical vapors or gases. It is also important to note that there are some chemicals in the gaseous or vapor form for which no cartridge offers sufficient protection. Therefore, always consult with Environmental Health & Safety before deciding on the type of respiratory protection needed.
Air supplying respirators provide the user with respirable air drawn from a separate source, typically a cylinder. These respirators may be used to provide protection in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere and/or in a highly toxic atmosphere where air-purifying respirators would not be sufficient for reducing the levels of personal exposure. There are two types of air supplying respirators: Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) and a Supplied-Air Respirator (SAR). Specialized training is required before any Virginia Tech employee is permitted to use these types of respirators. Training must be provided by a contractor certified to teach donning, doffing, and the use of SARs.
Respirator fit testing
Fit testing is required for all employees wearing a tight-fitting respirator. Environmental Health & Safety personnel or designated trained staff for the Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (ARECs) will conduct the test to ensure the proper fit of the respirator. The fit test is to be conducted before an employee needs to wear a respirator for a specific task/job, whenever a different facepiece is used, when there are changes in the employee's physical condition that might affect the respirator fit, and annually thereafter.
At Virginia Tech, respirator fit tests are conducted using the controlled negative pressure technique and the REDON protocol for all types of tight-fitting respirators. In some cases, irritant smoke or bitrex may be used for respirators requiring a fit factor less than 500 (all types of air-purifying half-face respirators). The procedures for each type of fit test follow the requirements of the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard.
Each employee will be fit tested with the make, model, and size of the respirator that they will actually wear. Employees will be given the opportunity to choose the most comfortable facepiece from a number of manufacturers and are required to bring in the respirator they use at the time of fit test. For employees that are new to the Respiratory Protection Program, a respirator will be selected at the time of their initial appointment with Environmental Health & Safety.
Facepiece seal protection
At Virginia Tech, employees are prohibited from wearing a tight-fitting respirator if:
- Facial hair comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face, or interfere with proper inhalation or exhalation valve function;
- Absence of dentures, facial changes (scars, deep skin creases, etc), or use of jewelry or headgear that projects under the facepiece seal prevent achieving a proper seal.
A user seal check must be performed each time the respirator is put on, and prior to entering a contaminated area or starting a job that requires respiratory protection. The seal check procedure has two parts: a positive pressure and a negative pressure test. This procedure is outlined in Appendix 4. A respirator must pass both checks to function properly and fulfill its purpose.
Respirator maintenance, care, and storage
All parts of the respirator must be carefully inspected before each use and during cleaning using the following checklist:
- Facepiece: Check for cracks, tears, holes, mask distortion, cracked or loose face shield;
- Head straps: Check for breaks, tears, or broken buckles;
- Valves: Check for residue or dirt, cracks, tears, valves stuck or folded open;
- For PAPR: Check the hose condition, gaskets, motor function, battery charge, and condition;
- For air supply systems: Check breathing air quality/grade, condition of supply hoses (no cracks, tears, cuts), hose connections, settings on regulators, and valves.
All respirators maintained for use in emergency situations and all SCBA units must be inspected at least monthly and in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations and must be checked for proper function before and after each use. The date of the inspection, name of the person who inspected the respirator, the findings, remedial actions taken, and the serial number of the respirator must be recorded, and the information must be kept readily accessible in paper or electronic format. SCBA inspections must include reading the tank pressure, assuring that components are present and in working condition, and evaluating the proper function of regulators and warning devices.
Defective respirators must be taken out of service immediately until they can be repaired using parts approved by the manufacturer or else replaced.
Respirator cleaning must be performed following the instructions provided in Appendix 6. SCBA units must be cleaned in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. Environmental Health & Safety strongly recommends that respirators be cleaned after each use.
Respirators must be stored in a closed container such as a zip lock bag, and away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, dust, and chemicals. The original form of the facepiece must not be distorted through storage.
SCBA units must be stored in a specially designed equipment locker that is under the direct control of the authorized users, away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, dust, and chemicals. Air and oxygen cylinders shall be maintained in a fully charged state and shall be recharged when the pressure falls below 90% of the manufacturer's recommended pressure level.
EHS training information can be found here.
To ensure that supervisors and their employees can demonstrate the knowledge, understanding, and skills necessary to implement the duties outlined in this program, they are required to attend respirator training. Employees, as well as their supervisors, will be trained prior to fit testing and actual use of the respirator. Training will occur annually thereafter, and whenever procedures are modified, duties change, or at any time the supervisor or Environmental Health & Safety personnel determine that an employee has not retained sufficient knowledge of the correct use of a respirator.
Respiratory Protection Training is offered online through Environmental Health & Safety's website. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that all respirator users under his/her supervision have completed the training prior to their scheduled medical testing at CRC 2020 Kraft Drive, Suite 2100, Blacksburg.
Employees who voluntarily use respirators are not required to participate in this training program. However, they must review Appendix D of the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard found in Appendix 3 of this program. Students who are voluntary users must also sign and return the Informed Consent for Voluntary Respirator Users.
A medical evaluation is required for all employees enrolled in the Respiratory Protection Program. This evaluation begins with the completion of a Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire and the Medical Survey Questionnaire. This information is used to assist Environmental Health & Safety in determining the employee's ability to use a respirator. The questionnaire will provide information about the employee’s past respirator use, the physical effort required for job tasks, and pertinent medical history. The questionnaire is either administered at the time of the employee’s initial visit scheduled by Environmental Health & Safety, or in advance of that appointment (preferred) and is evaluated by a licensed health care professional (LHCP).
Students who need to wear respiratory protection must either provide Enviromental Health & Safety a statement from their primary care physician that they are medically capable of wearing a respirator or sign an informed consent form at time of service before they are fit tested.
In addition to the respirator questionnaire, a spirometry test (Pulmonary Function Test -PFT) may also be performed, at the discretion of the LHCP, to evaluate the employee’s lung function before the respirator fit test takes place. A PFT will not be performed on voluntary users of respirators.
Voluntary use of respirators
Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students who wish to use a respirator on a voluntary basis may do so with the approval of Environmental Health & Safety. The status of voluntary user changes the type of administrative and medical services that would otherwise be provided to a non-voluntary user.
Voluntary users who are employees (wage, salary, or stipend) who wear a tight-fitting respirator are still required to complete a Respiratory Medical Evaluation Questionnaire (RQ), but will not be fit tested. Those persons who wear a filtering facepiece respirator (e.g. N95 or similar) on a voluntary basis do not need to be medically cleared. All voluntary users must review OSHA Appendix D to 29 CFR 1910.134
Voluntary users who are non-wage students or visiting scholars who need to wear a tight-fitting respirator must either review and sign our Informed Consent form or else provide Environmental Health & Safety a note from their primary care physician stating that they are medically able to wear a respirator.
If you are not medically evaluated through the completion of the RQ or Informed Consent and are not fit tested, you are not authorized to use a respirator.
Respirators cannot be used on a voluntary basis if:
- The respirator presents a hazard to the user.
- Chemical/particulate exposures are known or may exceed regulatory permissible exposure limits.
If you are required or need to wear a respirator, it is essential that it fit you correctly. The only way to assure this is through fit-testing performed by EHS. This is why it is essential that you NOT purchase a respirator to which you have not been fitted. You must also be medically cleared before you are fit tested if the respirator is required for the performance of your job. Once you have been fitted, your department can purchase that specific respirator through Hokie Mart using account #22426.
Termination of services and respirator recovery
When an employee is no longer affiliated with Virginia Tech, is no longer required to wear a respirator as part of his/her job duties, or when the respiratory hazards have been abated, participation in the RPP is no longer necessary. The respirator users should return the respirator to their supervisor. These respirators must be stored in such a way to prevent their use by personnel not participating in the Respiratory Protection Program. If an employee's participation in the RPP has been terminated but s/he remains in the possession of the respirator, this must be stored in a way that prevents the use by unauthorized persons.
For each employee participating in the Respiratory Protection Program, EHS will retain the training record, fit-test record, and medical clearance. These records are updated annually or more often if necessary and are made available upon request to the employee and to the director or the director's designee of the Virginia State Department of Labor and Industries for examination and copying.
Employees are enrolled in the Respiratory Protection Program when Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) determines that they are exposed to respiratory hazards in particulate, vapor, or gas forms above permissible exposure limits (PELs) or as necessary to protect the health of the employee. Individuals with special health concerns may be enrolled based on the recommendation of their personal physician or the university's occupational physician. Employees may also be enrolled based on the hazard assessment performed by the university Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).
Prior to enrollment, a respiratory hazard assessment should be initiated by the Principal Investigator or supervisor by completing a Respiratory Hazard Assessment (RHA) form and submitting it to EHS or by completing the RHA in the EHS Safety Management System. This form is used to request an evaluation of potential worksite exposure conditions. If you cannot see the Medical Services tab for your lab/workgroup in the Safety Management System, click on the 'Summary' tab, then click the 'Edit Lab/Tabs' button, check the Medical Services box, and then click on submit at the bottom of the page.
If a respirator hazard determination has already been established for a workgroup in the SMS, and a new employee needs to be added to the Respiratory Protection Program, the principal investigator/supervisor or designee should edit that RHA under the Medical Service tab and add the employee. When persons are assigned respiratory protection through the SMS, respiratory protection training and medical services are automatically added to the services provided to that employee.
All employees enrolled in the Respiratory Protection Program will receive a medical evaluation and respirator training. Fit-testing will be conducted by Environmental Health & Safety on an annual basis.
Respiratory protection appendices
The Respiratory Hazard Assessment form is used to request Environmental Health & Safety perform an evaluation of work you or your staff perform using chemicals, biological agents, or hazardous dusts to determine if respiratory protection is needed. Environmental Health & Safety will perform exposure monitoring as needed to make this determination.
An alternative (preferred) process is to complete the RHA request form found under the Medical Services tab in the Safety Management System. If you have not set up a lab or workgroup in the SMS, please visit the Safety Management System to do so. When you are creating your lab/workgroup, be sure to check the 'Medical Services' box.
If you have already created a lab/workgroup in the SMS and do not see the Medical Services tab, click on the "Summary" tab and then the "Edit Lab/Tabs" button. Check the box beside Medical Services and then click on the "Submit" button at the bottom of the page.
Information for voluntary users of disposable, filtering facepiece respirators
Respirators are an effective method of protection against designated hazards when properly selected and worn. Respirator use is encouraged, even when exposures are below the exposure limit, to provide an additional level of comfort and protection for workers. However, if a respirator is used improperly or not kept clean, the respirator itself can become a hazard to the worker. Sometimes, workers may wear respirators to avoid exposures to hazards, even if the amount of hazardous substance does not exceed the limits set by OSHA standards. If your employer provides respirators for your voluntary use, or if you provide your own respirator, you need to take certain precautions to be sure that the respirator itself does not present a hazard.
You should do the following:
- Read and heed all instructions provided by the manufacturer on use, maintenance, cleaning and care, and warnings regarding the respirator's limitations.
- Choose respirators certified for use to protect against the contaminant of concern. NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, certifies respirators. A label or statement of certification should appear on the respirator or respirator packaging. It will tell you what the respirator is designed for and how much it will protect you.
- Do not wear your respirator into atmospheres containing contaminants your respirator is not designed to protect against. For example, a respirator designed to filter dust particles will not protect you against gases, vapors, or very small solid particles of fumes or smoke.
- Keep track of your respirator so that you do not mistakenly use someone else's respirator.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, not just anyone can wear a respirator. All employees who are required to wear a respirator must undergo a medical evaluation. A medical evaluation includes the completion of an OSHA medical questionnaire and a written recommendation by a licensed health care professional. This is required because the use of a negative pressure air-purifying respirator increases breathing resistance. This additional physiological burden may result in cardiovascular and pulmonary complications.
No, any old respirator will not do. Respirators are assigned to individuals and should not be shared. The reasons for this are respirator fit and personal hygiene.
Please do not purchase a respirator until you have been fit tested, so that you can be sure it will adequately protect you. Once you know the make and model of the respirator you need, work with the purchasing agent for your department to order one.
If you suspect that your work environment poses a health hazard, the university's Industrial Hygienist will evaluate your work environment and take steps necessary to eliminate or reduce workplace exposures. Many times, the only feasible alternative is to require the use of respiratory protection, at which time the employee is entered into the respiratory protection program.
Medical Services provided by Environmental Health & Safety are done at the Corporate Research Center (CRC), 2020 Kraft Drive, Suite 2100.
For questions, contact Juliet Dadras, 540-231-8733 or email@example.com.
This questionnaire is completed by all persons who are required to use respiratory protection at Virginia Tech. The information provided is reviewed by our Occupational Physician to assure that the individual can safely use a respirator. This information is maintained as confidential by Environmental Health & Safety.
Is training mandatory? If so, when? Yes. Personnel who use respirators to control exposure to a chemical, particulate, or another respiratory hazard must be trained.
Class length: 30 minutes.
Available online: Yes.
When is refresher training required? Annually.
For Questions: Please contact the respiratory program manager at 540-231-3600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Single strap dust masks are not regulated by OSHA, and there are no requirements for medical clearance or fit testing for dust masks. These masks will NOT protect against chemical or dust exposures, but will help for nuisance dusts. For additional information, please contact the respiratory protection program manager at 540-231-3600 or email@example.com.
Once enrolled in the program, an employee will be scheduled for a medical testing appointment. The preliminary medical testing is conducted at our Occupational Health Clinic located at 2020 Kraft Dr in Suite 2100 after you have completed the respirator medical questionnnaire. The questionnaire will be reviewed by a licensed health care professional. Based on this review, you may be asked to perform a pulmonary function test. Once you have been medically cleared, you will be fitted to your respirator if it is a tight-fitting type respirator.
Medical clearance and fit testing services will be arranged locally for you if you are located off the main campus.
The Respiratory Protection Program serves to protect employees from airborne workplace hazards in accordance with OSHA requirements. Some common airborne hazards include the following: asbestos, lead, welding fumes solvent vapors, dust, bacteria, and oxygen deficiency.
Respiratory Protection training will be offered at the time of your medical appointment if you have not already taken the on-line training. The training covers why respiratory protection is required, and how to effectively use and maintain a respirator.
Any person using a respirator, whether in a confined space or not, must be properly trained and fitted through Environmental Health & Safety. Contact Environmental Health & Safety at 540-231-2509 for more information.
Review the information contained on the Safety Data Sheet. If one is not available, you may contact the manufacturer, importer, or supplier to request one. If you still need assistance, please contact Environmental Health & Safety at 540-231-3600.
Zack Adams, Assistant Director, Occupational Safety and Health Programs