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Research Safety

Voluntary Respiratory Use Policy

General Policy

Under some circumstances, employees may wish to use respiratory protection equipment for their own comfort or sense of well being, even when there is no recognized hazard or over exposure. In these cases, not all of OSHA's respiratory protection requirements apply (i.e., fit testing is not required). In order to voluntarily use respiratory protective equipment in this way, the following criteria must be met:

  • There is no recognized hazard or potential for over exposure.
  • The respirator must be NIOSH certified.
  • The respirator must be cleaned, stored, and maintained as specified in Care of Respiratory Protective Equipment (below).
  • The respiratory protective equipment does not itself present a hazard to the user.
  • The employee is medically cleared to use a respirator (Exception: filtering facepieces, i.e., dust masks, "duck bill" respirators, etc., do not require a medical clearance for voluntary use).
  • The employee is given a copy of the appendix Information for Employees using Respirators when not required Under the Standard, attached.

Employees who would like to voluntarily wear a respirator may purchase and wear their own respirator or may ask their department to supply one for them.

Medical Clearance

OSHA's revised respiratory protection program does not require voluntary respirator users to undergo medical clearances. However, it does require the employer to determine that the respirator itself is not a hazard to the employee. To this end, EH&S strongly recommends that voluntary respirator users seek a medical clearance from University Health Service, Occupational Medicine, or their personal physician before using a respirator. Medical clearances should be repeated according to the physician's recommendation.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration have set guidelines for the cleaning of respiratory protective equipment. These are listed below. Alternatively, respiratory protective equipment can be cleaned according to the manufacturers recommendations so long as the equipment is cleaned and disinfected in a way that does not damage it, and does not harm the user.

  1. Remove filters, cartridges, or canisters. Disassemble face pieces by removing speaking diaphragms, demand and pressure-demand valve assemblies, hoses, or any components recommended by the manufacturer. Discard or repair any defective parts.
  2. Wash components in warm (43 deg. C [110 deg. F] maximum) water with a mild detergent or with a cleaner recommended by the manufacturer. A stiff bristle (not wire) brush may be used to facilitate the removal of dirt.
  3. Rinse components thoroughly in clean, warm (43 deg. C [110 deg. F] maximum), preferably running water. Drain.
  4. When the cleaner used does not contain a disinfecting agent, respirator components should be immersed for two minutes in one of the following:
    1. Hypochlorite solution (50 ppm of chlorine) made by adding approximately one milliliter of laundry bleach to one liter of water at 43 deg. C (110 deg. F); or,
    2. Aqueous solution of iodine (50 ppm iodine) made by adding approximately 0.8 milliliters of tincture of iodine (6-8 grams ammonium and/or potassium iodide/100 cc of 45% alcohol) to one liter of water at 43 deg. C (110 deg. F); or,
    3. Other commercially available cleansers of equivalent disinfectant quality when used as directed, if their use is recommended or approved by the respirator manufacturer.
  5. Rinse components thoroughly in clean, warm (43 deg. C [110 deg. F] maximum), preferably running water. Drain. The importance of thorough rinsing cannot be overemphasized. Detergents or disinfectants that dry on face pieces may result in dermatitis. In addition, some disinfectants may cause deterioration of rubber or corrosion of metal parts if not completely removed.
  6. Components should be hand-dried with a clean lint-free cloth or air-dried.
  7. Reassemble face piece, replacing filters, cartridges, and canisters where necessary.
  8. Test the respirator to ensure that all components work properly.


Respiratory protection equipment must be stored in a way that protects them from damage, dust, contamination, sunlight, chemicals, excessive moisture, and extreme temperatures. They must also be stored in such a way that it is unlikely that the face piece or valves will be damaged or deformed. Additionally, emergency respirators must be stored in an easily accessible way in the workplace, must be in containers clearly labeled as containing emergency respirators, and according to any manufacturers recommendations. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) cylinders must be stored fully charged, and must be recharged whenever they fall below 90% full.


The following checks are required as part of the respirator inspection procedure:

  • Respirator function
  • Tightness of connections
  • Condition of the face piece, head straps, valves, connecting tubes, and cartridges, canisters, or other filters
  • Pliability of any elastomeric parts
  • Signs of cracking, discoloration, or other symptoms of aging
  • Tank pressure (SCBAs)
  • Regulator and pressure alarm bell function (SCBAs)
  • Tank condition (SCBAs)

When using respirators routinely, these inspections must be performed before each use and during each cleaning. SCBAs must be checked at least monthly. Inspection records must be kept until the time of the next inspection.

Emergency respirators must also be inspected by performing the checks above. These checks must be certified by tagging or labeling the respirator with the date of the inspection, the name and/or signature of the inspector, a serial number or other identifying means, the condition of the respirator, and any needed repairs or other maintenance. Emergency respirators shall be checked before being brought into the workplace, and periodically thereafter.


Respirators found to be defective or in need of repairs must be removed from service immediately. When repairing a respirator or replacing cartridges, valves or other components, only approved parts shall be used to keep the NIOSH approval valid. No attempts, under any circumstances, should be made to change, modify, or improve any respiratory protection device. Only specially trained and qualified technicians shall make repairs to SCBA's, pressure regulators and other sensitive devices.

Training and Assistance

EH&S will provide training or other assistance to voluntary respirator users upon request. Contact EH&S at x5-3241 for more information.

Information for Employees Voluntarily Using Respirators

Respirators are an effective method of protection against designated hazards when properly selected and worn. Respirator use is encouraged, even when exposures are below the exposure limit, to provide an additional level of comfort and protection for workers. However, if a respirator is used improperly or not kept clean, the respirator itself can become a hazard to the worker. Sometimes, workers may wear respirators to avoid exposures to hazards, even if the amount of hazardous substance does not exceed the limits set by OSHA standards. If your employer provides respirators for your voluntary use, of if you provide your own respirator, you need to take certain precautions to be sure that the respirator itself does not present a hazard. You should do the following:

  1. Read and heed all instructions provided by the manufacturer on use, maintenance, cleaning and care, and warnings regarding the respirators limitations.
  2. Choose respirators certified for use to protect against the contaminant of concern. NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, certifies respirators. A label or statement of certification should appear on the respirator or respirator packaging. It will tell you what the respirator is designed for and how much it will protect you.
  3. Do not wear your respirator into atmospheres containing contaminants for which your respirator is not designed to protect against. For example, a respirator designed to filter dust particles will not protect you against gases, vapors, or very small solid particles of fumes or smoke.
  4. Keep track of your respirator so that you do not mistakenly use someone else's respirator.