Voluntary Respiratory Protection

With the updated silica regulation in effect, there are still a lot of questions out there.  I'm asked all the time, "If my guys are not required to wear a respirator, can they still wear a dust mask if they want to without having to do fit testing and medical testing?"


3M 8210 N95 Respirator

And I never have a straight answer for that.  Here's why:

  • Are employees wearing a dust mask or a respirator?  Because there's a difference.
    • A N95, usually referred to as a "two-strap dust mask" is actually a respirator.
    • Usually dust masks have one strap.
    • A dust mask is not NIOSH approved.
  • What are the employees doing?  Make sure that what they're doing really doesn't require them to wear one. 
    • If you're following Table 1 and it requires the employee to wear a dust mask, then you had better be requiring them to wear one.  See below. 
    • If you're not following Table 1, do you have the data to show that they are under the PEL and don't need one? 
      • For example, if you're mixing mud, you might be able to get this from your suppliers (I know Amerimix and Spec Mix both have some objective data they can share with you).
      • Or, if you've done your own testing that shows you're under the PEL for specific tasks, this should be sufficient.
  • If you're sure they are doing a task that they don't need a mask for but they still want to wear one, they can. But there are a few considerations:
    • They still should know how to use it. For example:
      • If it's a N95, it is a "disposable respirator" that should be disposed of after use or when it becomes damaged or soiled.
      • If it's a N95, you can't clean or disinfect it.
    • The employer must ensure that use of the respirator follows these requirements:
      • It must be clean- not dirty or contaminated (safest option is to give each employee a new one daily or more often if necessary)
      • It will not interfere with employee's ability to work safely (this could mean that it interferes with another piece of PPE or limits their vision).
      • See a letter of interpretation from OSHA about respiratory protection dated November 22, 2011 for more information about voluntary use of respirators. 
    • The employer must provide the information in Appendix D to each voluntary wearer.
      • Download Appendix D in English and Spanish
      • I recommend having employees acknowledge receipt of Appendix D. 
        • The perfect place for this is in your new employee packet. 
        • For those already employed, a "tool box talk" could allow employees a time to complete and sign acknowledgement forms during silica training.
    • Make sure that you have trained your employees the difference between when they are required and not required to wear a respirator. 
    • Make sure they know they are wearing them voluntarily if not required.  
      • OSHA will likely ask any employee wearing a respirator if they have been fit tested and gone through a medical examination, along with whether they know about your respiratory protection program. 

REMEMBER:  There are likely still some tasks in Table 1 that require use of a respirator unless you have objective data or have done testing that shows the task performed is under the limit.  A few common ones for masonry are:

  • Using a wet handheld power saw (any blade diameter) 
    • APF 10:  Outside for more than 4 hours
    • APF 10:  Inside, no matter how long
  • Using a handheld grinder for mortar removal (i.e. tuckpointing) with dust collection system.  See Back to the Grind:  Using Grinders according to Table 1 for more information about grinders.
    • APF 10: Outside or Inside for 4 or less hours
    • APF 25:  Outside or Inside for 4 or more hours

NOTE:  this is NOT all-inclusivelist

Table 1:  Handheld grinders for mortar removal (i.e., tuckpointing)

Table 1:  Handheld grinders for mortar removal (i.e., tuckpointing)

Thank you to Brandon Boyd, of Salus Consulting Services, who presented to the Associated Masonry Contractors of Houston last week about the new regulations.  Brandon is a great resource should you need help adjusting to these requirements.  His company focuses on helping companies achieve safe, quality production.  You can contact Brandon at bboyd@salusconsultingservices.com or visit www.salusconsultingservices.com.

If you have questions, or if Spec Rents can help you in any way, please contact us.  Check out our silica solutions for additional information.

Post by:  Elizabeth "Liz" Graves, Sales Manager at Spec Rents, LLC.  Contact Liz at lizg@specrents.com