CDC logoSafer Healthier People  CDC HomeCDC SearchCDC Health Topics A-Z
NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Skip navigation links Search NIOSH  |  NIOSH Home  |  NIOSH Topics  |  Site Index  |  Databases and Information Resources  |  NIOSH Products  |  Contact Us

NIOSH Respiratory Diseases Research Program

Evidence Package for the National Academies' Review 2006-2007

11. Respirator Policy

previous 10.3 Hurricane Response (2005 Hurricane Season) | 11.1 Respirator Approval Program next

Respiratory protection is a key element in the prevention hierarchy for occupational respiratory diseases. It is therefore of great concern to RDRP. NPPTL is the element of the NIOSH RDRP that has lead responsibility for directing and carrying out the NIOSH respirator certification program and related laboratory, field, quality, and research activities. NPPTL and other elements of RDRP have established a strong track record for integrated and collaborative work, the most recent being collaborative and coordinated work in the area of respiratory protection for infectious diseases. Coordination between the respirator program and the rest of RDRP is built into the management structure of RDRP, with formal representation of NPPTL on the RDRP Steering Committee. NIOSH’s Personal Protective Technology Program, including the NIOSH respirator program, will be the subject of a separate National Academies review. However, in view of the respirator program’s critical importance to respiratory diseases, this chapter will provide a brief overview of its activities.

 NIOSH has administered the respirator certification program since 1972, and traces its origins to the early years of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. The Bureau of Mines was created within the DOI in 1910, and began the development of Schedules covering the design, testing and evaluation of mine emergency respiratory protection equipment. Since then schedules have been published for self contained breathing apparatus for use in mine rescue (Schedule 13 or S13); gas masks and Air Purifying Respirators (APR) to be used by escaping miners during an emergency (S14); airline respirators (19); gas and vapor-removal (chemical cartridge, S23); and dust-filtration (particulate, S21).

The Bureau of Mines continued to publish revisions to its schedules and issue approvals to respirator designs meeting those criteria. The 1969 Federal Mine Health and Safety Act mandated joint approval of respirators by the Departments of Interior and Health, Education and Welfare, and the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act created NIOSH. In 1972, NIOSH and the Bureau consolidated the various approval schedules into federal regulations under Title 30, Mineral Resources, of the Code of Federal Regulations. Administration of the respirator approval program was transferred to NIOSH from the U.S. Bureau of Mines. The respirator approval program began to gain increased significance as regulations published by the OSHA and other federal agencies also begin to require the use of “approved or accepted” respirators in American workplaces. Approval responsibility within the DOI was transferred in 1973 to MESA, formed from the Bureau of Mines under the Act. The MESA was re-designated as the MSHA and transferred from the DOI to the Department of Labor with the respirator approval mandate under the 1977 Mine Act. All respirator approvals were issued jointly by the MSHA and NIOSH until 1995, when the approval requirements for respiratory protection devices were transferred to Title 42, Public Health, of the Code of Federal Regulations. Under current DHHS respirator approval regulations (42 CFR part 84), NIOSH is the sole approving authority for most respirators. MSHA is a co-approver with NIOSH for respirator designs intended for mine rescue and other emergency use in mines.

The respirator program has a strong commitment to seeking expert and stakeholder input. It works collaboratively with partners from government and industry in developing of respirator standards and carrying out its responsibilities. To assist in planning, NPPTL recently sponsored the establishment of a standing Committee on Personal Protective Equipment for Workplace Safety and Health by the National Academies. The committee will monitor existing conditions and emerging issues related to personal protective technology and define prospective activities (such as studies or analysis of respiratory protection, sensor systems, and other technologies and standards). The committee will provide a forum for discussion of scientific and technical issues relevant to the development, certification, deployment, and use of personal protective equipment, standards, and related systems to ensure workplace safety and health.

The NIOSH respirator program has evolved into a program of global impact, which consists of three components; certification activities which include post-certification monitoring, research and standards and policy development.