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Respirator effects in impaired workers.

Harber P; Santiago S
Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, R01-OH-008119, 2009 Nov; :1-16
The focus of this research project is respiratory protection. Respirators, technically known as respiratory personal protective devices, have traditionally been used in occupational settings to protect workers against inhalation hazards such as toxic materials. Persons who might use respirators were medically evaluated, and many persons with health disorders excluded from work requiring respiratory protection. More recently, however, a need for more widespread respirator use has been identified for several reasons: more industries and jobs require respiratory protection (e.g., the healthcare sector in addition to traditional mining/manufacturing sectors); respirators may be needed in many community settings (e.g., Hurricane Katrina cleanup, H1N1 influenza pandemic); and respirators may be needed if there is a bioterrorism concern. In addition, the workforce increasingly includes persons with impairments. Therefore, this research project sought to determine if persons with mild respiratory impairments could continue working while using respirators. In addition, despite extensive prior research studies, the reasons why some people tolerate respirator use poorly are not well understood. The project therefore also investigated the mechanisms of respirator effects. The project studied normal individuals and persons with mild respiratory impairments (COPD, asthma, and rhinitis) in both a research exercise physiology laboratory setting and while they performed a variety of work tasks using respirators. Two commonly used types of respirators were studied. Several different effects were analyzed- effects on ventilation (breathing), subjective effects, respirator induced anxiety, proper mask placement on the face, and impact upon the work productivity. This research project developed new methods for making many of these measurements. The data demonstrated that persons with mild respiratory impairments are able to safely and effectively use respirators. Improved methods of assessing effects were demonstrated, including a multidimensional subjective rating assessment and emphasis upon respiratory pattern control rather than simply measuring the total air breathed. The results showed that the two categories of respirators differed significantly in both physiologic and subjective effect. The respirator types also differed in the level of anxiety they induced. In addition, although mildly impaired subjects were able to continue doing the work with respirators, the patterns of adaptation and the types and magnitude of respirator effects differed significantly among the respiratory disease categories. Furthermore, this study directly measured work productivity while using respirators. Significant implications of this research include the following: (1) It is not necessary to exclude persons with mild respiratory disorders from work for which a respirator must be employed. (2) Specific medical evaluation considerations are needed depending on the type of respiratory disease. (3) The criteria for certifying new respirator designs by NIOSH should be reevaluated; in particular, the current testing methods may be augmented by measurement of impacts upon respiratory pattern, several types of subjective response, and work productivity. (4) Choosing the best respirator for an individual must consider interpersonal variability; there may be a trade-off between a higher level of protection afforded by some devices versus a lower likelihood that they will be actually properly used. (5) Methods developed in this study may be applicable to future respirator research to help produce devices that are likely to be well tolerated and actually properly used by a high proportion of potential users. (6) The study provided insights to address questions about why some users report problems, and why some respirator types may be better tolerated than others. In addition to potential benefit for protecting workers, results of this research are likely to have significant implications for use in the general community as well.
Equipment-design; Face-masks; Filters; Injury-prevention; Personal-protection; Personal-protective-equipment; Physiological-effects; Physiological-factors; Physiological-measurements; Protective-equipment; Protective-measures; Pulmonary-system; Respirators; Respiratory-equipment; Respiratory-protective-equipment; Risk-analysis; Safety-engineering; Safety-equipment; Safety-measures; Safety-practices; Standards; Work-environment; Worker-motivation
Philip Harber, UCLA Occupational-Environmental Preventive Medicine, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1800, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Publication Date
Document Type
Final Grant Report
Email Address
Funding Type
Fiscal Year
NTIS Accession No.
NTIS Price
Identifying No.
NIOSH Division
Priority Area
Personal Protective Technology
Source Name
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Performing Organization
University of Arizona, Tucson
Page last reviewed: March 18, 2022
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division