by Melinda Fontaine, Occupational Medical Liaison, I & O Medical Centers
Employees who work in environments where exposure to harmful contaminants or where oxygen-deficient air are a concern should wear respirators.
However, respirators can make breathing more difficult and not everyone is able to wear a respirator. Some conditions that could prevent someone from using a respirator include heart conditions, lung disease, and psychological conditions like claustrophobia. Before respirators are used or fit-tested, employees must be medically cleared to wear them. Occupational Medical Experts, such as those found at I & O Medical Centers, can evaluate employees using the OSHA Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire, also known as a Respirator Overread.
This confidential questionnaire is an important tool for medical personnel to identify “red flags” to evaluate whether or not there are physical conditions which may be of concern with respirator use by the employee. Further medical evaluation and testing, such as the use of Spirometry breathing tests and physical examinations may be used to determine if employees can use negative pressure respirators or potentially use a Powered Air Purifying Respirators instead (PAPR).
Here are some “Need To Know” Tips for Employers:
- Employers must allow employees to answer the questionnaire during normal working hours, or at a time and place that is convenient to the employee.
- The employer must not look at or review the answers.
- The employer must tell the employee how to deliver or send the questionnaire to the medical personnel who will review the test.
- The type of respirator worn will determine how much of the questionnaire must be completed, but at a minimum, all respirator wearers will complete Part A, Sections 1 and 2.
- OSHA Compliant respiratory surveillance programs require the questionnaire / overread by completed.
- If the environmental circumstances dictate respirator use, OSHA requires employers to provide respirators to each employee when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of such employee.
- Respirators, Training, and Medical Evaluations should be at no cost to the employee.
- Respirator Fit Tests should be performed every 12 months and/or when the employee experiences changes in their physical condition which could affect the fit such as weight gain/loss, major dental work, etc.
- With more board-certified occupational medical experts than any one in the region, I & O Medical Centers can perform Respirator Fit Tests at any one of our four locations in Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, and Virginia Beach. No appointments are necessary.