3M Respiratory Protection Safety Expertise Center

Welcome to the 3M Center for Respiratory Protection

Step-by-step tools to help ensure safety programs achieve their respiratory safety goals.


Your respiratory protection program starts here.

As the safety administrator, running a successful respiratory protection program means navigating a maze of regulations and anticipating hazards. Consider us your resource. Whenever you are in the process, we can help guide you to the information and details you need.

To run a successful workplace respiratory protection program, you must understand and comply with the standards set by state and federal administrations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If you’ve already started your research, you know it can be overwhelming. To help you make sense of it all, we’ve summarized key elements of the federal standard and what you need to do to comply with each one.

  • OSHA Image

    Highlights of the OSHA regulations on respiratory protection

    When respiratory protection is required by OSHA, a written respiratory protection program should be established. That means the designated program administrator must oversee the following:

    • Assessment of exposure to airborne contaminants.
    • Selection of appropriate respirators.
    • Evaluation of employees’ health to make sure they can wear a respirator.
    • Fit-testing and training of employees regularly.
    • Inspection, repair, cleaning, storage and replacement of respirators as needed.
    • Review of the program periodically to make sure it’s being run properly.
    • Keeping a written record of all of the above.


    Each part of the program can seem complex. Although as a safety administrator you must follow all applicable rules and regulations, we’ve outlined key highlights to help you navigate them.

    Site: OSHA Federal Regulation 29 CFR 1910.34

Explore Step-By-Step Tools


Exposure Assessment

Explore Exposure Assessment

OSHA requires employers to evaluate respiratory hazards in the workplace. You can bring in an independent or OSHA consultant if you don’t have a trained safety professional on staff or for an additional opinion on your hazards. The results of the assessment can help determine:

  • Exposure levels, and whether they’re acceptable or unacceptable.
  • Effective ways to control exposure.
  • Which types of respirators (if any) can help provide the right protection for your workers.


You should conduct a new assessment periodically and every time there are changes in the workplace that could result in new exposures — such as a change in equipment, process, products or control measures.


  • Ways to Test

    Some contaminants have a specific standard requiring a certain type of monitoring protocol or frequency. For others, OSHA says personal air monitoring — where samples are collected by attaching a monitor directly to the worker* — is the most reliable and accurate method to determine exposure. But other methods may be used.

    Objective data from industry studies, trade associations, or tests conducted by chemical manufacturers that show air contaminants can’t be released in concentrations that are “immediately dangerous to life or health” (IDLH). The highest foreseeable exposures should be used.

    Mathematical approaches: combining data on the properties of air contaminants, room dimensions, air exchange rates, contaminant release rates, and other data — including exposure patterns and work practices — to estimate the maximum exposure anticipated.

    If there’s no feasible way to estimate exposure, consider the atmosphere to be IDLH. All oxygen-deficient (<19.5%) atmospheres are considered IDLH, unless it can be demonstrated that oxygen concentration can be maintained within the ranges shown in Table II of the OSHA standard.

    If the assessment shows that exposure levels of airborne contaminants are unacceptable, as the safety administrator you should first see if you can control them by engineering controls (changing procedures, swapping out chemicals) or administrative controls (limiting worker exposure). If there’s no feasible way to bring exposure to acceptable levels, then you’re responsible for providing respirators, training and medical evaluations at no cost to the employee.

Keep Track

Records needed for the written respiratory program:

  1. Records of all exposure assessments


Respirator Selection

Explore Respirator Selection

OSHA mandates that when respirator use is required in the workplace, respirators must be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
As a safety administrator, you must select respirators according to the assigned protection factor (APF), which is the workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when the employer implements a continuing, effective respiratory protection program.

Another consideration is maximum use concentration (MUC), which is the maximum concentration a worker can be expected to be protected from using the chosen respirator. Multiplying the APF by the personal exposure limit (PEL) gives you the MUC for a respirator; it should be less than both the PEL and the IDLH levels for that hazard.


And finally, the respirators you select have to be appropriate for the type of hazard. Different types of respirators, filters and cartridges are needed depending on whether the airborne contaminants in your workplace are particles, gases, vapors or other hazards. Respirators also need to be compatible with any other personal protective equipment (PPE) that workers need to wear for protection against other types of hazards.

  • Types of Respirators

    There are two main kinds of respirators:

    • Air-purifying respirators, which use filters, cartridges or canisters to remove contaminants from the air you breathe.
    • Atmosphere-supplying respirators, which provide you with clean air from an uncontaminated source.


    Respirators can also be classified as tight-fitting or loose-fitting.

    • Tight-fitting respirators need a tight seal between the respirator and the face of the respirator user in order to work properly.
    • Loose-fitting respirators, either hood or helmet-style devices, do not depend on a tight seal with the face to provide protection.


    Common types of respirators include:

    • Filtering facepiece respirator: a tight-fitting, air-purifying respirator. When used properly, this respirator helps filter out particles in the air and reduce inhalation of particles, but does not work for non-particulate hazards such as gases or vapors. Normally discarded after use.
    • Half-facepiece elastomeric respirator: a tight-fitting, air-purifying respirator with replaceable filters (for particulates) or cartridges or canisters (for gases and vapors). Can be cleaned, decontaminated and reused.
    • Full facepiece elastomeric respirator: a tight-fitting, air-purifying respirator with replaceable filters or cartridges. Provides a higher level of respiratory protection than a half-facepiece respirator. Covers the user's eyes and face, so it can also protect against liquid splashes and irritating vapors.
    • Powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR): has a blower that pulls air through attached filters, then pushes the filtered air into the facepiece, helmet or hood, which covers the user's face. The loose fitting headtops may be used by people with some types of facial hair or those who cannot pass a fit test with a tight-fitting respirator.
    • Airline respirator: supplies clean breathing air to either a hood or a facepiece through a long hose, from a source of clean air such as a cylinder or compressor. May be tight-fitting or loose-fitting.
    • Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA): an atmosphere-supplying respirator with a tight-fitting, elastomeric facepiece that covers the user's face. Air is supplied from a cylinder of compressed breathing air that is carried by the user. Provides the highest level of respiratory protection. Only atmosphere-supplying respirators, such as an airline respirator or a SCBA, can be used in IDLH atmospheres.

Keep Track

Records needed for the written respiratory program:

  1. Documentation of respirator selection and justification


Medical Evaluations

Before employees can wear a respirator, you need to make sure they’re medically approved to do so. Not everyone is physically able to wear respiratory protection while on the job, because it can make breathing more difficult and may place additional stress on the body.

Initially, OSHA requires workers to complete a questionnaire, where they’ll provide information about medical conditions that could affect their ability to wear a respirator, as well as information about workplace conditions and the hazards they face. Make sure you provide employees all the data they need to complete the questionnaire.

A physician or licensed health care professional (PLHCP) must then evaluate the employee’s responses. The PLHCP will recommend whether follow-up medical examinations are required, and if so, what tests are necessary.

  • OSHA Requirements

    OSHA requires periodic re-evaluation but doesn’t specify a time period. Re-evaluation is also necessary if:

    • A worker reports signs or symptoms that may affect his/her ability to use a respirator.
    • A PLHCP, supervisor or respiratory program administrator decides it is.
    • Information arises during fit testing or program evaluation indicating a need.
    • Workplace conditions change (for example, if more exertion is required, temperatures change, or bulkier protective clothing is introduced).


Keep Track

Records needed for the written respiratory program:

  1. Description of medical evaluation procedures

Copies of the medical evaluation and questionnaire used (keep copies of each employee’s medical determination clearance letter in his/her file for 30 years post-employment)


Fit Testing

Explore Fit Testing

Tight-fitting respirators can only provide expected protection if they fit correctly, so fit-testing each employee is critical.

There are two kinds of tests, and OSHA specifies which can be used depending on the respirator type.

  • Two Types of Fit Test

    A qualitative fit test (QLFT) is pass/fail and relies on the employee’s senses using one of four OSHA-accepted test agents:

    • Isoamyl acetate, which produces a sweet smell, is only for testing respirators equipped with cartridges designed to remove organic vapors.
    • Saccharin, consisting of a sweet-tasting aerosol, can test respirators equipped with a particulate filter of any class.
    • Bittert, a bitter-tasting aerosol, can also test respirators with particulate filters of any class.
    • Irritant smoke, an aerosol that triggers an involuntary cough reflex, is only for testing respirators equipped with level 100 particulate filters.

    Each QLFT method uses seven exercises performed for 1 minute each:

    • Normal breathing.+
    • Deep breathing.
    • Moving head side to side.
    • Moving head up and down.
    • Bending over (or jogging in place if fit test unit doesn’t permit bending at the waist).
    • Talking.
    • Normal breathing.

    QLFTs may be used to fit-test:

    • Negative pressure air-purifying respirators, as long as they’ll only be used in atmospheres less than 10 times the PEL.
    • Positive pressure, atmosphere-supplying respirators.

    A quantitative fit test (QNFT) uses an instrument to measure leakage around the face seal and produces a numerical result called a “fit factor.” There are three OSHA-accepted QNFT test protocols:

    • Generated aerosol, which uses a non-hazardous aerosol such as corn oil generated in a test chamber.
    • Portacount®, which uses ambient aerosol and doesn’t require a test chamber.
    • Controlled negative pressure, a test that creates a vacuum by temporarily cutting off air.

    QNFTs use the same seven exercises as QLFTs, plus an additional “grimace” test where the subject smiles or frowns for 15 seconds.

    A QNFT can be used to fit-test any type of tight-fitting respirator. A fit factor of at least 100 is required for half-mask respirators and a minimum fit factor of 500 for a full facepiece negative pressure respirator.

    Fit tests should be performed per OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1310.134:

    • Prior to the first time an employee uses a respirator.
    • Whenever a different size, style, model or make of respirator is used.
    • At least annually.
    • When an employee’s weight fluctuates significantly or any other facial changes occur that could affect fit.

Keep Track

Records needed for the written respiratory program:

  1. List of specific fit test procedures
  2. Fit-testing records for each employee (keep only until next fit test)


Respirator Training

Explore Respirator Training

Annual training is an important (and OSHA-mandated) piece of the respiratory safety program. OSHA states that, at a minimum, training should include:

  • OSHA Requirements

    • Why employees need to use the respirator.
    • What the respirator can and cannot do to help protect them.
    • How to properly inspect, put on and take off, and use their respirators.
    • How to perform a “user seal check” on their respirators.
    • How to use the respirator effectively in emergency situations, including what to do if it doesn't work properly.
    • How to recognize medical signs and symptoms that may limit or prevent workers from using a respirator.
    • How improper fit, usage or maintenance can reduce the respirator’s ability to protect them.
    • The procedures for maintenance and storage of the respirator.
    • The requirements for federal/state OSHA respiratory protection standards.


Keep Track

Records needed for the written respiratory program:

  1. Respirator training documentation


Respirator Maintenance

Employers must provide procedures for the proper use and care of half and full-facepiece respirators.

    • Prohibiting conditions that could cause seal leakage, like facial hair.
    • Enforcing the practice of performing a user seal check each time workers put on the respirator.
    • Making sure employees keep their respirator on and operating effectively while in hazardous environments.

    If air-purifying respirators are used, they may have an end-of-service-life indicator (ESLI) certified by NIOSH for the contaminant. If there’s no ESLI appropriate for conditions in the workplace, then implement a change schedule for canisters and cartridges, based on objective information or data, to ensure they’re changed before the end of their service life. Keep a record in your respiratory program explaining the information and data relied upon, the basis for the change schedule, and the basis for using that data.

    The OSHA standard contains specific rules for proper respirator use in IDLH atmospheres and for interior structural firefighting that must also be part of your procedure if applicable.

  • Each employee who needs one must receive a respirator that’s in working order, clean and sanitary. OSHA provides procedures for cleaning and disinfecting, or you can use the procedures recommended by the respirator manufacturer in the user instructions.

    Frequency of cleaning and disinfection depends on how you use the respirator.

    • Respirators used exclusively by an employee: as often as necessary to be sanitary.
    • Respirators used by more than one employee: before it’s worn by a different person.
    • Emergency-use respirators: after each use.
    • Respirators used in fit testing and training: after each use.
  • All filters, cartridges and canisters are labeled and color coded with the NIOSH approval label. The label should not be removed and must remain legible.
  • All respirators should be stored to protect them from damage, contamination, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture and damaging chemicals. Make sure the way they’re packed doesn’t distort the facepiece and exhalation valve and that they are not hung by their straps.

    Emergency respirators have some additional requirements: They must be kept accessible to the work area, in compartments or in covers that are clearly marked as containing emergency respirators, and in accordance with any applicable manufacturer instructions.
  • Make sure to have your respirators inspected before each use and during cleaning. All respirators maintained for use in emergency situations should be inspected at least monthly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, and checked for proper function before and after each use. Be sure to inspect emergency escape-only respirators before use.

    Respirator inspections should include a check of:

    • Respirator function.
    • Tightness of connections.
    • Pliability of elastomeric parts.
    • The condition of the various parts including the facepiece, head straps, valves, connecting tube, cartridges, canisters or filters.

    For respirators maintained for emergency use, document:

    • The date the inspection was performed.
    • Who made the inspection.
    • The findings, including required remedial action.
    • A serial number or other means of identifying the inspected respirator.

    Keep all information on file until the next inspection.

  • If a respirator fails an inspection or isn’t working, you may discard, repair or adjust it. OSHA states that:

    • Only workers trained to do so can make repairs or adjustments to respirators.
    • You should use only the respirator manufacturer’s NIOSH-approved parts. Multiple manufacturer parts cannot be used in one respirator system and doing so will void NIOSH approval and is an OSHA citable offense.
    • Repairs should be made according to the manufacturer's recommendations and specifications for the type and extent of repairs to be performed.
    • Reducing and admission valves, regulators, and alarms should be adjusted or repaired only by the manufacturer or a trained technician.

Keep Track

Records needed for the written respiratory program:

  1. Canister and cartridge change schedule including information and data relied upon as the basis for the change schedule
  2. Cleaning protocol and frequency
  3. Respirator inspection frequency and results, keep records updated with current inspection results


Program Evaluation

All the elements of the program listed above should be evaluated regularly and discussed at regular safety committee meetings. Examine the written records to make sure all tests and inspections are up to date. Also, talk to the workers who use respiratory equipment to ensure the current respirators fulfill their needs, and that they understand and follow procedures for using and maintaining respirators.

Make a record of your evaluation, summarizing findings, any deficiencies identified and corrective actions to be taken.

Keep Track

Records needed for the written respiratory program:

  1. Criteria used to audit the respiratory program
  2. Written report of each evaluation, including corrective actions taken



Keeping a written record provides proof of compliance with the regulatory standards to OSHA. It also gives employees a reliable source for information about respiratory protection procedures, and it’s invaluable in helping evaluate the program.

The record should:


  • State all the policies and procedures established for your workplace.
  • List who is responsible for which parts of the program.
  • Contain all the documentation gathered during all of the previous steps.


It takes work and organization to set up and maintain each part of a respiratory protection program. Requirements may vary by state, and by type and level of respiratory hazards employees face, but it’s essential for meeting governmental requirements and helping keep your workforce safe.

* This is an overview only, not an official, legal or complete interpretation of the standard.

Refer to the complete OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.134 for specific questions

Fast Facts About Respiratory Protection

There is so much information to get through in long regulatory documents, and respiratory protection can be complex. This list addresses some of the potentially misunderstood or little-known facts surrounding respiratory protection.

respiratory program overview