OSHA Adds APFs to Respiratory Protection Standard

Aug. 23, 2006
Three years after the agency unveiled the proposed rule in the Federal Register and after some heated public discussions OSHA is incorporating assigned protection factors (APFs) for respiratory programs into its respiratory protection standard.

OSHA will publish its final respiratory standard on APFs in the Aug. 24 Federal Register.

This APF final rule completes the revision of the reserve sections of OSHA's respiratory protection standard as published in 1998. The respiratory protection standard now will contain provisions necessary for a comprehensive respiratory protection program, including selection and use of respirators, training, medical evaluation and fit testing.

APFs are numbers that indicate the level of workplace respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when used as part of an effective respiratory protection program.

Employers select respirators by comparing the exposure level found in the workplace and the maximum concentration of the contaminant in which a particular type of respirator can be used (the maximum use concentration, or MUC).

Employers generally determine the MUC by multiplying the respirator's APF by the contaminant's exposure limit. If the workplace level of the contaminant is expected to exceed the respirator's MUC, the employer must choose a respirator with a higher APF.

OSHA mandates employers follow these new requirements and use APFs to select the appropriate type of respirator based upon the exposure limit of a contaminant and the level of the contaminant in the workplace.

An APF table guiding employers in the selection of air-purifying, powered air-purifying, supplied-air (or airline respirator) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) respirators is included in the standard.

OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke said the standard will help "employers and employees select the right respirator for the job."

"And with the right respirator, employees will have adequate protection to be safe and healthy at work," Foulke said.

Standard Gives Filtering Facepieces an APF of 10

The revised standard assigns an APF of 5 to quarter-masks (the lowest APF), 10 to half-mask air-purifying respirators (including filtering facepieces) and 10,000 to self-contained breathing apparatus helmets or hoods in certain modes (the highest APF).

While there appeared to be rough consensus on most of the APFs, the agency's decision to give the popular filtering facepieces an APF of 10 is sure to anger labor groups and other stakeholders who argued the APF is too high and will endanger workers. On the other hand, respirator manufacturers and NIOSH were among those who generally supported the APF of 10 for filtering facepieces.

To view the standard in today's Federal Register, click here.

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