Frequency of Respirator Training

There are many variables that affect the degree of protection afforded by respiratory protection devices, and the misuse of respirators can be hazardous to employee safety and health.  Respirators can only provide adequate protection if they are:

·       Properly selected for the task;

·       Fitted to the wearer and consistently donned and worn properly;

·       Properly maintained so that they continue to provide the protection required for the work situation. 

According to the OSHA Technical Manual for respiratory protection, employee training is an important part of the respiratory protection program and is essential for correct respirator use.  The Cal/OSHA respiratory protection standard requires employers to provide training before the employee uses a respirator in the workplace.  For the training to be effective, the training information must be comprehensive and presented in an understandable way.  Cal/OSHA regulations require that training and fit-testing be provided at least annually.  Is that frequent enough?  Maybe not, according to a recent study by Harber, et al., Persistence of Respirator Use Learning, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 11:826-832. 

The article reports that workplace studies have shown that respirators are frequently used incorrectly and that improper use is particularly common when respirator use is infrequent.  The study shows that proper use of respiratory protection declines when there is a gap as little as 6 months between training and subsequent use.  The study recommends that individuals should be re-trained to use respirators rather than assuming that workers will remember proper use when the time comes for the respirator to be used.  Harber, et al., looked at the benefit of retraining by means of video, computer-based or brochure 6 months later after initial full training.  The respirator fit-factor (i.e., quantitative fit-testing) or use performance scores (i.e., proper performance of placing and removing the respirator) were statistically insignificant according to the type of retraining, though the study found that video-based initial training was somewhat more effective over the other two methods of training particularly when workers were wearing half-faced air purifying respirators instead of filtering face-piece respirators, such as dust masks.  However, the difference between the modes of training is reduced over time.

The study concludes that individuals should be retrained to use respirators rather than assuming they will remember proper use and fit particularly where there is infrequent respirator use.  For the retraining, some participants to the study received a brief reminder card about proper use or a “placebo” card with general information only.  The brief reminder card improved respirator use with filtering face-piece respirators; the card had little positive impact with users of half-face respirators.  If respirator use for employees is infrequent, consideration should be given to providing retraining and fit-testing every 6 months instead of the annual OSHA requirement.  The retraining can easily and effectively be conducted by using video, computer-based training or brochure.