Respirators and safety in the workplace

Minnesota employees who number among the estimated 5 million U.S. workers who wear respirators while on the job may want to know more about innovations that could enhance the role that these devices play in workplace safety. In a National Safety Council online publication dated Feb. 26, a few industry insiders commented on the current trends in respiratory protection while others pointed out some common misuses of the equipment.

According to manufacturing company officials, both ergonomics and technology are contributing to improvements in respiratory safety devices. A worker who uses a self-contained breathing apparatus for a lengthy period of time may benefit from innovations such as a face piece that has a lighter-weight mask and an increased field of view. Improvements that have been made to the respirator's back plate are designed to reduce snag hazards, increase stability and enhance the worker's overall range of motion. In some products, added electronic features such as automatic filter type recognition and built-in telemetry systems may add sophistication while improving safety in the workplace when protection devices are worn as specified.

However, comments made by two product managers indicate that workers may not always use their required respiratory protection equipment due to discomfort. These officials suggest that manufacturers are working to promote compliance by offering improved, easier-to-fit respirator assemblies that are designed to accommodate a wide range of employees. Another misuse concerns the mixing and matching of device components manufactured by separate companies, which constitutes a violation of industry respiratory protection standard mandates. To avoid this issue, officials recommend education and due diligence on the part of safety professionals and employers.

When workplace safety is compromised by exposure to airborne chemicals and other dangerous environs, employees who have been harmed may want to meet with an attorney to see what recourse they may have. Although workers' compensation benefits could be available, an alternative could be a lawsuit if the injury was due to the reckless disregard of safety protocols by an employer.

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