Allay Consulting June Newsletter: Employer’s Obligation for Workplace Respiratory Protection

Employer’s Obligation for Workplace Respiratory Protection

Recently, in efforts to help protect the public from COVID-19, we have seen so many different respiratory protection methods, including homemade cloth masks, N-95 masks, and half-face/full-face respirators with cartridges. I even witnessed a grocery shopper using a gas mask! These are measures we’re taking to protect each other and the public. If you’re participating, pat yourself on the back for protecting public health.

But even as we were tasked with the responsibility to essentially wear what we could find, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has clear respiratory protection guidelines that each employer is legally bound to follow.

Providing a respirator is not enough. An employer must also meet strict OSHA criteria. Before respirators are provided, an employer should first mitigate potential air contaminants by removing the danger out of the building through ventilation and/or substitution. Secondly, the employer should implement administrative controls, such as minimizing exposure time. Basically, you need to do anything you can to make the environment itself as safe as possible, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is your last line of defense after everything else that can be done, has been done. Only then should you begin selecting personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a respirator, gloves, etc.

So let’s assume your team now has respirators. What’s the next step in OSHA compliance?

Employers are then responsible for ensuring employees have had a medical evaluation and are approved for wearing a respirator. Employees with asthma or other respiratory issues may not be fit for certain respirators and wearing one could put that person in danger. Employers should also fit-test all employees wearing respirators or N-95 masks. If the respirator or mask is not fit-tested by a trained professional, the respirator or mask may not be doing its job. Lastly, the employer should create a written respirator program that will provide training to employees on how to use, clean and store respirators.

In our cannabis compliance experience, we often see a business providing employees with respiratory protection. But many times the medical evaluation is not complete, a fit test may not have been conducted, a detailed written program doesn’t exist or provide enough detail, or evidence of training cannot be found.

To prevent health issues and potential OSHA visits, ensure your workplace is compliant with these regulations. Regulators will often make a surprise visit if complaints are made and even worse, issue fines if documentation is lacking or observations lead to violations. For example, if you’re providing any kind of mask to your employees, but the medical evaluation hasn’t been completed, OSHA can fine you up be $10,000 per person — or more! Invest the $75 fee to have you employees evaluated. We’re here to help.

Protect your employees, and protect your business! STAY SAFE!


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