Understanding the Importance of Respiratory Protection
When looking at workplace safety on construction sites, most people focus on things like fall protection and avoiding objects being dropped from above. While these are certainly important hazards, they are not the only ones.
On many construction job sites, one of the biggest types of hazards is actually breathing. This is because there is often a lot of chemicals, vapors, and other potentially toxic things that are in the air. In addition, saws and other machines may cause a lot of dust that can be harmful if breathed in. There are many other situations where employees will need proper respiratory protection.
The following five tips will help keep your employees protected both from immediate hazards and from experiencing issues related to breathing harmful items years down the road.
5 Respiratory Protection Tips
1. Understanding the Hazards
The first thing you need to do is have a full understanding of what types of hazards are present on the construction site. For example, some people may not realize that the dust that is kicked up from cutting concrete can have harmful effects on people’s lungs. Even if there isn’t that much dust in the air, it is good to use respiratory protection.
The following are just a few of the many types of situations that can cause the air in an area to become dangerous. Many of them are pulled from OSHA’s document titled, “Respiratory Protection in Construction: An Overview of Hazards & OSHA’s Program Requirements.”
- Lead Based Products – When cutting, grinding, welding or otherwise working with lead based products, the air can become very dangerous. This applies both to lead pipes and any products with lead based paint.
- Silica Dust – If you’re cutting through concrete, the silica dust can get kicked up quickly, which can cause many long term health problems.
- Toxic Vapors – When using glues, paints, cleaning products or other items the vapors that are created can be very dangerous.
- Lack of Oxygen – When on a construction site it may be necessary to work in a confined space. These areas can potentially run out of safe air quite quickly, which is why it may be necessary to bring your own with you.
These are just a few of the many instances when respiratory protection needs to be used on any given construction site.
2. Types of Respiratory Protection
Having the right type of respiratory protection is also very important. While there are dozens of different options, they all fall into one of two categories:
- Air-Purifying Respirators – These work by filtering the air from the surrounding area to remove particles, chemicals or other potential hazardous contaminants.
- Supplied-Air Respirators – These provide the user with a supply of clean air. It is brought in using either a tank or a long hose from another area where the air is known to be clean.
In most cases, some type of air-purifying respirator is sufficient to provide the protection that is needed. Knowing the specific contaminants in the area, however, will help ensure you are able to choose the right option for the job.
3. Alerting People on When to Use Respiratory Protection
As with most types of safety equipment, if people don’t use them, they won’t work. With this in mind, it must be clear when and where this type of protection needs to be used. One of the easiest ways to do this is to make custom safety signs or labels to place on and around areas where there may be a risk.
For example, you can use an industrial label printer (which you can find here) to create a label that will go on all concrete cutting machines. The label can simply instruct users that they must be using respiratory protection while this machine is in use.
You can also print off safety signs (similar to these) to remind people that they need to use this type of protection before entering specific areas of the construction site. Rooms where grinding, cleaning or painting is done, for example, should always be marked with these signs.
4. Proper Respiratory Protection Training
In addition to knowing where to use this type of protection, and having the right equipment available, it is also important to make sure everyone knows how to use it properly. Each type of respiratory protection is going to be a little different, so take the time to provide training to those who may use it.
For example, employees must know how to quickly access the equipment, and put it on properly in order to get any use out of it. If they don’t know how tight to have a mask over their face, for example, the harmful air may leak in through any openings. This, of course, can make the protection much less effective.
Holding occasional training sessions for new employees and offering them to employees who have been there a while too, can be a great way to improve the overall safety of the facility.
5. Scheduling Cleaning & Replacement
If you have respiratory protection equipment that is used on a regular basis at job sites, you need to make sure that they are properly maintained. While the supplied-air respirators make it obvious when they run out of clean air, the air-purifying options don’t.
Many individuals or companies use the air-purifying equipment far longer than they should, and this can cause them to become less effective. The filters or other parts of the respirator will become too dirty, and partials will begin to get through. In addition, it can become harder to breathe while wearing them.
With this in mind, it is important to follow the recommended maintenance steps for your equipment. Some of these items can be cleaned; others can have the filters replaced. Some, however, will need to be completely discarded and new ones purchased. Whatever the case, make sure you are keeping up on this maintenance so your will employees remain protected.
No matter what type of job sites you’re working on, or how large or small the safety concerns are, you must always do everything you can to help keep everyone protected. Having high quality respiratory protection, and using it properly, will help ensure your company and all the employees are safe.