Respiratory Protection


rev 5/2011

Table of Contents:

I.   Choosing a Respirator

  1. Health Hazards and Warning Properties of the Contaminant
  2. Types of Respirators and Protection Factors
  3. NIOSH Approved Respirators
  4. Respirator Use on Campus

II.   Medical Requirements of the Program

III.   Respirator Use

  1. Work-place Surveillance
  2. Approved Respirators
  3. Prohibiting Conditions
  4. Donning the Respirator
  5. Evaluation of Respirator Effectiveness

IV.  Respirator Care and Maintenance

  1. Cleaning
  2. Inspection
  3. Cartridge Service Life
  4. Storage

V.  Donning a Respirator

  1. Restrictions on Use
  2. Fitting Instructions and Pressure Testing
  3. Pressure Tests

VI.  Respirator Fit Testing
VII. Employee Training


  1. Chemical Hazard Definitions
  2. Medical Questionnaire
  3. Fit Testing Instructions
  4. For Users of Air Filtering Dust Mask Respirators
  5. Respirator — Use Requirements

This Program contains operating procedures for College employees using respiratory protection equipment. This Program is available to all employees who wear respirators on the Environmental Health & Safety web site and in Department OSHA compliance notebooks, paper copies are provided upon request. The Director of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S Director) administers the Program and reviews the effectiveness of the Program at least annually.

I. Choosing A Respirator

Each supervisor is responsible for determining when a respirator is needed to comply with OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits. Respirators may also be used under other conditions when respirator use is considered prudent by the supervisor or EH&S Director. Prior to making a decision that respirators are required the feasibility of achieving compliance through engineering controls (e.g., improved ventilation), source reduction (e.g., use of less or a different chemical) or altering work practices is evaluated. In determining the appropriate respirator, the supervisor evaluates:

  • the nature of the hazard
          - e.g., oxygen deficiency
          - physical/chemical properties (e.g., dust, vapor)
          - concentration of the chemical
          - permissible exposure limit
          - IDLH (immediately dangerous to life and health concentration)
          - warning properties of the chemical (e.g., odor)
  • the nature of the operation and work area
  • NIOSH approved respirator for the contaminant          

If necessary, the supervisor seeks assistance from the department head or EH&S Director.

A. Health Hazards and Warning Properties of the Contaminant
When choosing the type of respiratory protection required for a particular operation, the nature of the hazard must be clearly defined. Respirators are used to reduce employee exposure to a contaminant to a level below OSHA established Permissible Exposure Limits. Information on the potential health effects of overexposure and physical properties of the chemical are available on the container label and the SDS for the product. The SDS for the product being used and any air monitoring data available should be reviewed before a respirator is selected. Appendix A includes definitions for chemical characteristics used to define the nature of the hazard.

It is important to recognize that respiratory protection reduces exposures from inhalation of the contaminant. For certain chemicals, skin and eye contact and/or absorption are also important routes of exposure, in which case additional personal protective equipment is required.

Air purifying respirators can only be used for gas and vapor contaminants that have adequate warning properties that will alert the user to respirator malfunction. A chemical has adequate warning properties when the odor, taste, or irritation effects of the substance are detectable and persistent in concentrations at or below the PEL.

If the odor or irritation threshold occurs at concentrations greater than three times the PEL, the substance is considered to have poor warning properties and an air-purifying respirator cannot be used. The only exceptions to this rule are for respirators with end-of-life service indicators (e.g., carbon monoxide) or when an OSHA Standard permits such use. When the odor threshold is above the PEL but not in excess of three times the PEL and there is no ceiling limit, potential exposures must be evaluated to determine if there could be serious of irreversible health effects. If no such effects are evident, an air-purifying respirator may be used.

B. Types of Respirators and Protection Factors
There are several basic types of respirators as listed below. The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) approve respirators. Most of the respirators used at Mount Holyoke College are air purifying respirators. Supplied air respirators are used in two locations, the Facilities Management garage (pressure demand airline), and as escape respirators (pressure demand SCBA) in the Kendade mechanical room.

Atmosphere-Supplying Respirators
Pressure-demand SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus): a supply of air is continuously provided to the mask from a compressed air tank(s) carried by the individual with positive pressure maintained in the mask at all times. (Compressed air must meet grade D breathing air standards.)

Pressure-demand Airline Respirator: a supply of air is continuously provided through a small diameter hose from a remotely located compressor or compressed-air cylinders. (Compressed air must meet grade D breathing air standards.)

Air-Purifying Respirators
Air Purifying Respirator: ambient air is passed through a filter, cartridge or canister that removes the contaminants, the breathing action of the user draws air through the system.

Powered Air Purifying Respirator: ambient air is passed through a filter, cartridge or canister that removes contaminants, a blower worn by the user, forces air through the system.

Air-purifying respirators do not protect against oxygen deficient atmospheres and cannot be used under IDLH conditions. The maximum contaminant concentration in which an air-purifying respirator can be used is dependent on the design efficiency and capacity of the filter or cartridge and the face-piece to face seal on the user.

Air purifying respirators can only be used for certain ranges of air contaminant concentrations. A respirator protection factor (RPF) has been established for each type of respirator based on the overall effectiveness of the respirator. The RPF is a ratio of the air contaminant concentration outside the respirator to the air contaminant concentration inside the respirator face piece (breathing air). RPFs are used in conjunction with PELs to determine the upper concentration limit, maximum use concentration (MUC), for which the respirator is acceptable.

For example, a half-face cartridge respirator with organic vapor cartridges has a RPF of 10. It can be used when air contaminant levels are less that 10X the PEL, the MUC. In some cases, the MUC based on 10 times the PEL is too high, and a lower MUC has been established. A full-face air-purifying respirator has a RPF of 50. Some examples of MUCs for half-face cartridge respirators are provided in Table 1. NIOSH approved MUCs can be found in the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.


Table 1: PELs and Maximum Use Levels of Common Chemicals

PEL/TWA (8 hr)
Maximum Use Level *
250 ppm
organic vapor
2500 ppm
100 ppm
organic vapor
500 ppm
100 ppm
organic vapor
900 ppm
0.5 ppm
5 ppm
hydrochloric acid
5 ppm
acid gas
50 ppm
* half-face cartridge respirator
Source: NIOSH, 2004. Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.

The proper type of filter or cartridge must be chosen for the contaminant of concern. Filters and cartridges are classified into two major types: particulate removing and vapor/gas removing. Particulate removing filters and cartridges provide no protection against vapors and gases. Only cartridges for a particular manufacturer and model respirator may be used. Multiple cartridges may be used if approved by the manufacturer. Cartridges available include:

  • acid gas
  • organic vapor
  • organic vapor/acid gas
  • ammonia/methylamine
  • chlorine
  • carbon monoxide gas
  • acid gas/organic vapor/carbon monoxide
  • dust/fumes/mists

Air Filtering Disposable Dust Masks
Upon occasion, employees may elect to wear a disposable mask when a respirator is not required by OSHA standards. These employees are given OSHA’s Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under the Standard (see Appendix D) when they obtain disposable masks from the Facilities Stockroom.

Appendix E shows respirator program requirements for required and voluntary use of respirators.

C. NIOSH Approved Respirators
Specific contaminant(s) and concentration(s) must be evaluated to identify those respirators with NIOSH/MSHA or OSHA approval for the conditions of use. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards identifies for each contaminant the MUC for each type of approved respirator. For example, for acetone a half-face chemical cartridge respirator with organic vapor cartridges can be used for concentrations at or below 2500 ppm.

Respirators are approved as a whole unit with specific components. Only components (e.g., cartridges, filters, gaskets, straps) approved for the respirator may be used. Components from different brands of respirators can not be interchanged.

D. Respirator Use on Campus
The following operations may require respirator use. Supervisors determine if respirators are needed for a specific job.

Department/shop Hazard Respirator
pesticides full/half-face, pesticide
Facilities/Paint Shop solvents
paint spraying
half-face, organic vapor
w. prefilter
Facilities/Boiler carbon black
nuisance dust
full-face, HEPA
Facilities/Carpenters nuisance dust
paint spraying 
half-face, HEPA
full/half face, organic vapor 
Facilities/Pool Maintenance chlorine full-face, acid gas
Biology/Physics nuisance dust half-face, HEPA
Environmental Health & Safety organic solvents full-face, organic vapor/acid gas

All respirators are issued by the employee's supervisor or the EH&S Director; and are only issued to employees after successful completion of the medical evaluation (See section II) and instruction (see Section VII).

In addition to routine respirator use, Kendade mechanical room is equipped with escape breathing apparatus, for use to immediately exit the area should the refrigerant release alarm sound. These respirators are inspected and maintained by Facilities Management. Emergency use of these respirators does not require participation in the respiratory protection program; training in their use is provided to all employees who work in the mechanical room.

II. Medical Requirements Of The Program

The Respirator User Medical Questionnaire, included in Appendix B, is required by OSHA. This questionnaire is confidential and administered annually to all employees in the Program. Questionnaires are completed at the Groves Health Center or returned by confidential mail in an envelope provided. Responses are evaluated by the College Physician at the Groves Health Center to determine if a medical examination is needed and the extent of that examination. Examinations are provided by the Health Center. Employees may discuss the results of the questionnaire or examination with the College Physician by making an appointment.

The College Physician provides a written recommendation before an employee begins participation in the Respiratory Protection Program and annually thereafter. The recommendation includes any limitations on respirator use related to the medical condition of the employee, the need, if any, for follow-up medical evaluation, and a statement that a copy of the recommendation has been sent to the employee. The Physician provides the employee with a copy of the written recommendation. Additional medical evaluation will be provided if an employee reports medical signs or symptoms that are related to ability to use a respirator.

Medical records generated by this Program are retained for a period of thirty years and are accessible to employees (or their designated representative) as required by the OSHA Access to Medical Standard. Employee medical records are retained at the MHC Health Center.

III. Respirator Use

A. Work-place Surveillance
Before commencing work that requires a respirator, employees should familiarize themselves with:

  • the warning properties of the chemicals involved such as
          - odor
          - appearance and color
          - irritant effects
          - symptoms of overexposure
  • engineering and administrative controls such as
          - ventilation
          - recommended work practices
  • other personal protective equipment such as
          - gloves, aprons, etc. to prevent skin contact          
          - goggles or face shield to prevent eye contact

Questions regarding any of these factors are addressed by the supervisor.

As required by the MHC Confined Space Program, all confined spaces must be evaluated prior to entry. Entry into Permit Required Confined Spaces is prohibited.

B. Approved Respirators
Only respirators purchased by the College are used. All respirators are NIOSH approved for the hazard encountered. Only respirators the same make, style and size as that fit tested can be used.

C. Prohibiting Conditions
Respirators can not be worn by people with beards. Other conditions may also prevent adequate face-piece to face seal such as side burns, absence of one or both dentures, or temple bars on glasses (when wearing full face respirators).

D. Donning the Respirator
A user seal check is preformed every time a respirator is put on. Seal check methods are described in Section V and practiced during training.

E. Evaluation of Respirator Effectiveness
The supervisor will determine the requirements for surveillance of the work area to identify any changes in area conditions or employee exposure to stress that could affect respirator effectiveness. Employees must leave the work area:

  • to wash face and respirator as necessary to prevent eye or skin irritation associated with respirator use,
  • if they detect vapor or gas breakthrough, changes in breathing resistance, or leakage of the face piece,
  • to remove the respirator for any reason.

IV. Respirator Care And Maintenance

A. Cleaning
All respirators are issued to individual users and are not shared. Respirators are regularly cleaned with soap and water by the user. Respirators routinely used throughout the day are cleaned after each day's use or more often as necessary. Respirators used for short intermittent periods of time may be cleaned with less frequency with at a minimum cleaning after 8 hours of use. When used in particulate contaminated areas, respirators, even when used for short periods, are cleaned after each use. The following general cleaning procedure is used:

  1. Remove cartridges, filters, valves, and straps.
  2. Wash face-piece and accessories (not cartridges) in warm soapy water. Gently scrub with a brush.
  3. Rinse parts thoroughly with clean water.
  4. Air dry in a clean place or wipe dry with a clean, lintless cloth.
  5. Inspect for wear or defects and reassemble.

B. Inspection
Respirators should be inspected each time they are used:

  1. Check face piece for pliability, deterioration, and cracks, tears or holes.
  2. Check straps for breaks, tears, loss of elasticity, or broken attachments.
  3. Check filters or canisters for dents, corrosion, expiration dates.
  4. Check valves for pliability, deterioration or tears.
  5. Confirm that the filter or canister is acceptable for the hazard that is present.
  6. For cartridges with "end-of-service life" indicators, confirm that it is still in the usable range.

If any part if the respirator is unacceptable replace that part or the entire respirator before use.

C. Cartridge Service Life
Cartridges must be replaced when there is "breakthrough" of the contaminant. This is recognized by recognition of the taste, odor, or irritant effects of the contaminant. They must also be replaced when breathing becomes difficult or any deterioration or visible dirt is noticed. At a minimum, cartridges should be changed after 8 hours of use or, if used for less than 8 hours a month, at least monthly. The date a cartridge is removed from the package must be written on the cartridge before installation. A limited number of cartridges (e.g., carbon monoxide) have visible "end of service life" indicators that must be checked each time the respirator is used.

D. Storage
Respirators are stored in a convenient, clean, and sanitary location and protected from dust, chemicals, sunlight, excessive heat or cold, and moisture. Respirators must be closed in sealed plastic bags or containers. Storage location should be determined by the employee with approval of their supervisor.

V. Donning A Respirator

A. Restrictions on Use
Respirators cannot be worn under conditions that may interfere with the facial seal. Such conditions include:

  1. a beard, sideburns or other facial hair at the face-piece to face seal under the face piece,
  2. temple bars on glasses (full face respirators), and
  3. the absence of one or both dentures.

Respirator use may also be restricted based on the results of the physical examination described in Section II.

B. Fitting Instructions and Pressure Testing
After inspection of the respirator, the respirator should be donned in a clean environment. Make sure the respirator is assembled correctly.

Manufacturers recommendations regarding donning procedure should be followed. In general, the donning sequence for a half-face respirator should be:

  1. place face-piece over face
  2. pull crown strap over head
  3. hook lower headband strap behind neck
  4. adjust lower headband
  5. adjust crown strap.

The respirator should not be over-tightened so as to be uncomfortable on the face.

After donning a cartridge respirator a negative and positive pressure test must be done to verify that the respirator is sealed properly.

To perform the negative pressure test, cover the cartridges with the palm of your hand, inhale and hold your breath for at least ten seconds. The face-piece should collapse slightly and no inward leakage of air should be detected.

To perform the positive pressure test, cover the exhalation valve with the heel of your hand, and exhale gently. A slight positive pressure should build up within the mask and no outward leakage of air should be detected.

The respirator should not be adjusted after entering the hazardous environment. If adjustment is necessary, the employee should first go to a clean environment.

VI. Respirator Fit Testing

Respirator fit testing is used to determine if a particular respirator is sized properly for the user. Fit testing is only applicable to cartridge and negative pressure respirators. Only respirators (identified by manufacturer, model, and size) for which an acceptable fit has been demonstrated may be used.

Employee fit testing is conducted prior to initial use of a different respirator face-piece (size, style, model, or make) and at least annually thereafter. Additional fit testing is done if an employee reports or the supervisor observes a change in physical condition that could change the fit of the respirator. Fit testing is done using the Portacount quantitative fit testing protocol or the procedure defined in Appendix A, B.5. of the OSHA Standard, Irritant Smoke Protocol as summarized in Appendix C.

VII. Employee Training

Instruction on the proper use and limitations of respiratory protection equipment is given prior to respirator use and at least annually thereafter. Training is provided by the EH&S Director. Original training records are kept by the EH&S Director with copies kept by each department. The training includes the following topics.

  • respirator selection
  • medical evaluation
  • fit testing
  • respirator use
  • respirator care and maintenance


A: Chemical Hazard Definitions

B: Medical Questionnaire

C: Fit Testing Instructions

D: Users/Air Filter Dusk Mask Respirators

E:  Respirator — Use Requirements