Protect Employee Health
Depending on the industry, an employee might be exposed to dangerous toxins, chemicals, etc. in safety-sensitive positions requiring them to wear a respirator. To ensure the safety of the employee and their health in this environment, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), state level OSHA, and other agencies, require employee’s to complete a respirator fit test, along with a medical evaluation before their first time wearing one on the job. The medical evaluation can be done by using a MEQ (medical evaluation questionnaire) or a physical exam that obtains the same info as an MEQ. This ensures that the respirator fits the person wearing it, while also ensuring they are in overall good health to perform the job tasks. At the end of the day, if a respirator doesn’t fit, then it’s not going to adequately protect the person wearing it.
How Does a Respirator Work?
A respirator works to filter air particles, fumes, dusts, vapors, and bioaerosols that can carry dangerous particles such as silica, asbestos, coal, pesticides, etc. Respiratory exposure can lead to work-related illnesses and diseases including allergies, asthma, influenza, pneumoconiosis, tuberculosis, obliterative bronchiolitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), silicosis, and mesothelioma. These illnesses can cause life-long, debilitating harm to an employee’s health and the severity can depend on the
- Type or worked performed during inhalation
- How long the substance is inhaled
- Type of substance that is inhaled
- Location of the lung where the substance lands
When properly equipped and fitted with the right respirator for the job, the employee is further protected from inhaling any dangerous materials. Since work conditions and materials can vary so greatly, it’s essential that a health professional assesses each employee to determine the most suitable options, ensuring safety.
Not all people are able to wear a respirator, since it can make it difficult to breathe. Certain medical conditions may worsen one’s ability to breathe, thus a medical evaluation is required for employee’s who need to wear one to ensure that they are capable of withstanding it while working. Certain aspects will be taken into consideration during the evaluation, including health, respirator type, job description, and the condition of the workplace.
According to OSHA, “before you can be medically evaluated, your employer must also provide the physician or licensed healthcare professional with information about how you will use the respirator at work.”
- the type and weight of your respirator
- how long and how often you will be wearing the respirator;
- how hard you will be working and how much effort will be involved;
- other protective clothing or equipment you will wear during respirator use;
- temperature and humidity extremes at work; along with
- a copy of the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard and your employer's written respiratory protection program.”
An OSHA Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire will be administered to help determine if the employee can wear a respirator, or if any other medical evaluations such as a pulmonary function test or a physical exam is needed.
After an employee is cleared to wear a respirator, they could still require a reevaluation depending on certain circumstances, including:
- Reported medical signs or symptoms related to your ability to use a respirator
- Someone such as a physician or licensed healthcare provider, your supervisor, or the respirator program administrator informs your employer that you need to be reevaluated
- Information or observations made during the evaluation that indicates you need a reevaluation
- A change occurs in workplace conditions that makes it more difficult to wear the respirator