Federal Study Recommends Extended Respiratory Protections |


There is a new recommendation from federal agencies to protect workers and the public from inhalation hazards.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine have published a Consensus study report which provides information and recommendations for effectively developing respiratory protection for multiple populations.

NIOSH, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and the CDC Foundation commissioned the study.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OHSA oversees respiratory protection programs in various industries.

Workers undergo medical clearance, fit testing and training on how to properly use a respirator in the programs.

‘Fall Short’ protectors

Because OSHA’s requirements do not include independent contractors, self-employed workers, and gig workers, the report found that protections for these groups were insufficient.

According to the report, the public has also become increasingly concerned about respiratory protection in the wake of the pandemic and other natural disasters.

“EPA research shows us that air pollution, such as particulates and smoke from wildfires, airborne infectious agents, and other inhalation hazards negatively affect communities and at-risk populations,” Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Policy at EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Chris Frey, said.

“Furthermore, research demonstrates the effectiveness of interventions that reduce risk.

“Thus, this research helps to identify effective practices aimed at protecting public health.”

Proposed framework

Officials considered the challenges of implementing a large-scale program when developing the recommendations.

The recommendations are divided into seven essential functions. Each is accompanied by a recommendation for the general public and a more specific recommendation for workers.

Developing and approving respiratory protection devices:

  • Improve the timeliness and capacity of NIOSH respirator suitability assessment for expanded professional use by using recognized consensus standards, where appropriate, and incorporating third-party laboratory testing into respirator approval programs
  • For public use, establish a means to oversee the development of respiratory protection standards and an approval process for devices for public use

Ensure adequate coordination and authorities to protect the target community from inhalation risks:

  • Designate OSHA as the coordinating entity for the proposed framework for workers who are not currently protected by OSHA’s respiratory protection programs
  • Designate an organization within the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee public managers

Assess hazards and determine respiratory protection needs:

  • Establish comprehensive workplace exposure standards with hazard indicators to trigger respiratory protection program requirements for workplaces that typically do not need them
  • Establish a standardized process for determining public respiratory protection needs

Determine the necessary respiratory protection devices:

  • Recommend NIOSH-approved respirators for workers without a protection program
  • Use hazard and risk assessments to determine necessary protective devices for the public

Ensure availability and access routes for respiratory protection devices:

  • Assess worker protection needs to understand and predict the scale of the increased need for workers
  • The HHS coordinating organization should ensure device availability and access by working with relevant stakeholders

Engage, inform and ensure access to the target community:

  • Support guides and training for workers by expanding federal grant programs and other mechanisms
  • The CDC should lead culturally appropriate training and counseling for the public

Embed lifecycle learning and continuous improvement:

  • Initiate extensive NIOSH research monitoring programs for worker protection
  • HHS Coordinating Agency Must Constantly Evaluate Public Programming Progress

For more information, contact AABC’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).

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