On October 12th, 2023, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced that they will launch a national survey of employers to assess current respirator use and practices in the workplace. This is the first time since 2001 that the agency has sought updated data on employers’ respiratory protection practices. The survey will collect data from U.S. employers across all industries. This includes both general industry employers and those in higher hazard injuries like construction. In August 2023, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced its proposed rule clarifying the personal protective equipment (PPE) standard for the construction industry.

OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134)

A respirator is a device that protects employees from inhaling dangerous substances, such as chemicals and infectious particles. Specifically, respirators work by either filtering particles from the air, chemically cleaning (purifying) the air, or supplying clean air from an outside source. Types of respirators include particulate respirators, chemical cartridge or gas mask respirators, powered air-purifying respirators, and self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs). OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) applies to employers in general industry, shipyards, marine terminals, longshoring, and construction.

According to the standard, employers must provide employees with respirators whenever it is necessary to protect their health. Respirators must be applicable and suitable for their intended purposes. Finally, employers must establish and maintain a respiratory protection program that includes the following:

  • Selection procedures for NIOSH-certified respirators for use in the workplace;
  • Fit testing procedures for tight-fitting respirators;
  • Procedures for proper use of respirators in routine and reasonably foreseeable emergency situations;
  • Procedures and schedules for cleaning, disinfecting, storing, inspecting, repairing, discarding, and otherwise maintaining respirators; and
  • Training employees in respiratory hazards and respirator use, as well as donning and maintaining respirators.

NIOSH Employer Survey on Respirator Use

NIOSH’s survey, titled The Survey of Respirator Use and Practices (SRUP), will collect data from employers in all industries. Next, NIOSH will use the data to update the estimated number of U.S. companies and individual employees using respirators. Additionally, the data will help NIOSH determine reasons for respirator use, as well as how employers manage such use. The agency expects that its survey will show how the COVID-19 pandemic affected respirator use throughout several industries. These include manufacturing, mining, agriculture, healthcare, public safety, construction, and services.

NIOSH will also use data collected through the survey on respirator use to help ensure that its Respirator Approval Program is able to address all respirator uses and practices. NIOSH’s Respirator Approval Program is a certification and approval program for respirators to be used in U.S. workplace settings. Under the program, respirators must meet minimum construction, performance, and respiratory protection standards. The agency will extend invitations to employers to complete the survey beginning November 2nd, 2023.