Advanced Industrial Hygiene

OSHA Guidelines

There are many different types of respiratory protection used in occupational settings. Some respiratory use is required while some companies allow their workers to use some types of respirators even if they are not required (voluntary use). Explain when you believe respirators are required to be used and when they can be used on a voluntary basis. In many settings, employees can be seen wearing surgical masks as voluntary protection.

Discuss your experiences with the use of respirators in occupational settings you are familiar with and whether you believe there is a problem with an employee wearing a surgical mask voluntarily.

(note: In responding to this question you will want to find out what OSHA says about voluntary use of respirators. You may want to look at OSHA’s RPP guidance for that. There are other resources available. Let me know if there are questions-Dr.B.).

Please include the name of the person or question to which you are replying in the subject line. For example, “Tom’s response to Susan’s comment.”


Respirators are vary important part of PPE that can often times be misused. Working on a roof where open ventilation is the norm there are very few materials that will meet OSHA limits. Some of the substances we use if they were not in open spaces with good ventilation the employees would need respirators. As far as voluntary use just yesterday we were working at an energy facility and our employees had to clean the roof, no OSHA limits were even in question but that could have been a time where they could request a respirator.

The other aspect of voluntary use is the employer making sure the employee can safely wear a respirator. According to OSHA employers still need to do a fitness exam and  make sure the respirators are clean and store properly if the employees decide to wear them. That is part of what makes the use of face coverings, including surgical masks, right now so interesting. Not only do the vast majority of people not have training on using a mask properly, but most employees aren’t even given cleaning instructions or a physical.

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