Respiratory Protection Program Toolkit Released

By Roy Maurer May 22, 2015
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Health care employers have a new resource to use to protect hospital staff from respiratory hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have released a toolkit to assist hospitals in developing and implementing effective respiratory protection programs, with an emphasis on preventing the transmission of aerosol transmissible diseases.

The Hospital Respiratory Protection Program Toolkit covers respirator use, public health guidance on respirator use during exposure to infectious diseases, and hazard assessment, and includes a customizable policy document for each hospital’s specific needs.

“Appropriate respiratory protection is a vital line of defense against airborne hazards hospital workers might face on the job,” said NIOSH Director John Howard in a statement. “This toolkit is an important resource to help health care employers ensure their workers are out of harm’s way when it comes to respiratory hazards.”

Hazardous Workplaces

The hospital environment contains hazards such as bacteria, viruses and chemicals that may be inhaled by employees. Aerosol transmissible diseases are transmitted when infectious agents, suspended or present in particles or droplets, come into contact with the mucous membranes or are inhaled.

OSHA recommends using the hierarchy of controls approach for reducing exposure to transmissible diseases. This calls for starting with eliminating or substituting known hazards for less hazardous options, if possible. Employing engineering controls is the next step, which involves isolating the hazard. If that doesn’t work, administrative controls, such as providing vaccinations, and work practices like following respiratory hygiene strategies are used to reduce risk.

Respirators and other personal protective equipment are used as a last line of defense when exposures cannot be reduced to an acceptable level using other methods.

OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard

Employers that require employees to use respiratory protection for control of exposure to airborne contaminants must comply with OSHA’s respiratory protection standard, or the equivalent state standard.

The OSHA standard requires that all employee use of respirators be done within the context of a comprehensive and effective respiratory protection program. The program must be in writing, have a designated administrator, and specify the employer’s policies and procedures for the use of respiratory protection. OSHA requires each respiratory protection program to include several specific elements, but leaves the specifics of the policies and procedures used to meet these requirements up to individual employers.

Strategies from the Front Lines

The Joint Commission, an accrediting body for more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs in the United States, developed a supplement to the toolkit, Implementing Hospital Respiratory Protection Programs: Strategies from the Field.

The document, produced in collaboration with NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, identifies common implementation challenges, provides specific examples of innovative strategies from health care organizations, and examines the issues of quality improvement, fit testing, training challenges and program evaluation.

OSHA has a resource page dedicated to the safety and health of health care workers.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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