Medical Evaluation Needed for Use of Respirator

Source: Joseph Belanger - 123RF

OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) requires that respirators must be used in workplaces in which employees are exposed to hazardous airborne contaminants.

Before wearing a respirator, workers must first be medically evaluated using the mandatory medical questionnaire or an equivalent method.

According to NIOSH, respirators protect the user in two basic ways:

The first is by the removal of contaminants from the air. Respirators of this type include particulate respirators, which filter out airborne particles; and “gas masks” which filter out chemicals and gases.

Other respirators protect by supplying clean respirable air from another source. Respirators that fall into this category include airline respirators, which use compressed air from a remote source; and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), which include their own air supply.

Respirators should only be used when engineering control systems are not feasible. Engineering control systems, such as adequate ventilation or scrubbing of contaminants, are the preferred control methods for reducing worker exposures.

The requirements of the medical evaluation and for using the questionnaire are as follows:

  • The employer must identify a physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP) to perform all medical evaluations using the medical questionnaire in Appendix C of the Respiratory Protection standard or a medical examination that obtains the same information. (See Paragraph (e)(2)(i).)
  • The medical evaluation must obtain the information requested in Sections 1 and 2, Part A of Appendix C. The questions in Part B of Appendix C may be added at the discretion of the health care professional. (See Paragraph (e)(2)(ii).)
  • The employer must ensure that a follow-up medical examination is provided for any employee who gives a positive response to any question among questions 1 through 8 in Part A Section 2, of Appendix C, or whose initial medical examination demonstrates the need for a follow-up medical examination.
  • The employer must provide the employee with an opportunity to discuss the questionnaire and examination results with the PLHCP. (See Paragraph (e)(3)(i).)
  • The medical questionnaire and examinations must be administered confidentially during the employee’s normal working hours or at a time and place convenient to the employee and in a manner that ensures that he or she understands its content.
  • The employer must not review the employee’s responses, and the questionnaire must be provided directly to the PLHCP.

The NIOSH Trusted-Source page provides information to understand the types of respirators, how to identify approved models, a listing of all NIOSH-approved and FDA-cleared surgical N95 respirators, and relevant User Notices.

It also contains information on how to implement the use of respirators in the workplace and use them appropriately and includes commonly asked questions and answers (fact sheets), respirator myths, the science of respirator function and performance, and respiratory protective devices not approved by NIOSH.