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Frequently Asked Questions about Respiratory Protection

Q: I work with chemicals in a laboratory, do I need a respirator?

A: In most cases, laboratory scale operations do not require use of a respirator. Use of a respirator is the last line of defense against chemical exposure. In a laboratory setting, engineering controls (adequate ventilation, chemical fume hoods) are used before a respirator would be used to reduce/eliminate chemical exposures. However, some tasks require the use of respirator and these will be assessed by EH&S prior to the respirator being selected and used. (Do I Need to Wear a Respirator)

Q: I cannot work inside a fume hood, should I use a respirator?

A: If you are working with hazardous chemicals and your work does not lend itself well working inside a chemical fume hood, call EH&S for risk assessment and to discuss options for working safely. It may be possible to substitute a less hazardous chemical, change the procedure, use administrative controls or use another facility within CU to safely accommodate your procedure. If the potential exposure cannot be eliminated or minimized then a respirator may be required. You should talk to your supervisor to explore all available options and risk assessment. To request EH&S for risk assessment, please complete this form. (Risk Assessment Form)

Q: EH&S has determined that I need a respirator to work with hazardous chemicals, how do I obtain one?

A: You must talk to your supervisor to arrange for medical clearance and selection of an appropriate respirator needed to protect you from hazards in your work environments. EH&S can also help in selection of a respirator as required by the OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) and the Columbia University Respiratory Protection Policy. For medical clearance, training and fit testing visit Medical Clearance for Respirator Use and How Do I Arrange a Respirator Fit-Test)

Q: Can I purchase a respirator from a hardware store?

A: No. The selection of respirator depends upon the type of hazard. Discuss it with your supervisor or EH&S for proper selection of a respirator before purchase. Improper use of a respirator could result in serious injury or even death. Without medical clearance, proper training and fit testing use of a respirator is a violation of OSHA regulations and University policy.

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Q: How can I obtain a medical clearance before fit testing?

A: The use of a respirator requires medical clearance from a Physician or Other Licensed Healthcare Provider (PLHCP). Follow directions outlined in Medical Clearance for Respirator Use.

Q: How and where I can get respirator fit-test?

A:  Follow directions outlined in How Do I Arrange a Respirator Fit-Test

Q: Can I use a respirator without medical clearance or fit testing?

A: If risk assessment by EH&S shows that your exposure levels are below the OSHA regulatory safe limits, and there is no need to use a  respirator but you still want to use one, you should talk to your supervisor.  Under these circumstances, you may want to  use a Non- NIOSH certified respirator, which requires no medical clearance or fit testing. However, if you want to use NIOSH certified N-95 respirator, also called “dust mask”, you can do so but you must comply with requirements outlined inVoluntary Use of N-95 Respirators, also known as Appendix D. The voluntary use of full-face or half-face respirators is NOT allowed under Columbia University Respiratory Protection Policy. You must consult with EH&S before any such use.

Q: How often should a respirator be cleaned and disinfected?

A: Disposable respirators, such as N-95, cannot be disinfected and must be discarded if they are soiled, physically damaged, or reach the end of their service life. Replaceable filter respirators, such as half-face or full-face respirators, must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each use, following the procedures outlined in Appendix - of the Respiratory Protection Policy.

Q: How long a Full-face or Half-face respirator can be used before it must be replaced?

A: Respirators with replaceable filters (for example full-face and half-face) are reusable, and a respirator classified as disposable may be reused by the same worker as long as it functions properly. All filters must be replaced and disposed of whenever they are damaged, soiled, or causing noticeably increased breathing resistance (e.g., causing discomfort to the user), as recommended by the manufacturer. Before each use, the outside of the filter material should be inspected for wear and tear.

Q: What is the proper way to store a respirator?

A: Respirators must be stored to protect them from damage, contamination, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, and damaging chemicals. Full-face or half-face respirators  must be packed or stored properly to prevent deformation of the face-piece and exhalation valve. Follow proper  guidelines outlined in the Maintenance and Storage of Respirators.

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