Respirator Selection and Use
The use of NIOSH-approved respirators is strictly regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134. Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) has developed a Respiratory Protection Program to comply with OSHA’s regulation and, accordingly, the use of a respirator by faculty, staff, students and visitors at Columbia is permitted only following a formal consultation and work practice/exposure assessment by EH&S. The assessment will determine the potential for exposure to hazardous substances and whether or not a respirator is required. If a respirator is required, users will be enrolled in the Respiratory Protection Program. Enrollment, as required by OSHA and Columbia University policy, involves an annual medical evaluation, clearance by a healthcare provider, a respirator fit-test, and selection, use and maintenance training by EH&S.
There are very few activities performed at Columbia where respirator use is necessary. Whenever a respirator is necessary, it is essential that EH&S lead the process for selecting the proper respirator for the user since not all respirators will protect against all potential hazards. As such, the purchase of any NIOSH-approved respirator, including N-95 respirators, must only occur after an exposure assessment is performed and EH&S advises on the most appropriate respirator for the specific work activity. If individuals in your department have respirators and have not received an exposure assessment by EH&S, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org immediately to arrange for an assessment.
When it is determined by EH&S that a NIOSH-approved respirator is not required, but an individual prefers to wear a “mask” for nuisance-level dusts or particulates, a “dust mask” or surgical-style mask may be a suitable option. These masks are not considered NIOSH-approved respirators, but may be suitable for nuisance-level dust or particulates, and thus can be purchased and worn without EH&S approval or enrollment in Columbia’s Respiratory Protection Program. Several options for “dust masks” and surgical-style masks can be found below. Additionally, if an individual chooses to voluntarily wear a NIOSH-approved respirator, whether their own or one issued by Columbia University, and it is determined by EH&S not to be required based on an exposure assessment, EH&S must be consulted before use to ensure Columbia University meets its OSHA obligations in conveying specific information to the user regarding selection, use and maintenance of a voluntary use respirator.