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NIOSH Program Portfolio



NORA Construction Sector Strategic Goals

927PP16 - Surveillance of Programs Using Respirators (SPUR)

Start Date: 10/1/1999
End Date: 9/30/2010

Principal Investigator (PI)
Name: Brent Doney
Phone: 304-285-6357
Organization: NIOSH
Sub-Unit: NPPTL
Funded By: NIOSH

Primary Goal Addressed

Secondary Goal Addressed

Attributed to Construction

Project Description

Short Summary

The purpose of this project is to understand respirator and other PPE use and practices with the ultimate goal of using interventions to improve respiratory protection programs. This project will continue to analyze and disseminate information about respirator use and the associated respirator programs established by U.S. employers. Composite data from the focus groups in three sectors of the construction industry will be analyzed and published.

The study of thirty road and transportation building construction sites will determine the effectiveness of interventions on a relatively small scale. The information gathered from this study will be used to determine the feasibility for a future survey and interventions in the construction industry. Eventually, the study findings could be applied in non-construction industries.


NIOSH and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) developed, cognitively tested, and mailed a respirator survey to a representative sample of U.S. industry establishments. The survey will continue to be analyzed jointly by BLS and NIOSH and used to better understand the patterns of respirator use in the manufacturing, mining, construction, agriculture, services (including health care), trades, and transportation industries. The findings have identified industries where respirators are worn, types and proportions of respirators worn, and delineated the strengths and weaknesses of current respirator programs. BLS and NIOSH produced a joint publication of the survey results (which was published by BLS).

Through the NIOSH/BLS respirator survey, we identified industries with a high rate of respiratory protection use and until adequate engineering controls are available and widely implemented, it is likely that respirators will continue to be used – especially in the construction sector where we will concentrate intervention efforts. However, to help prevent the deaths and diseases described in the “Mission Relevance” section, we need to improve the effectiveness of respirator use and improve respirator programs in these industries. Additional manuscripts from this survey for peer reviewed and trade journals will be produced.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) experts will recommend additional types of respirator surveys that may be necessary. A public meeting was conducted by NAS to gain direction for respirator surveillance such as public sector respirator surveys.

NIOSH staff has gathered information about barriers to respirator use within the construction industry (highway construction, painting and coatings, and demolition) from the employers’ and employees’ perspective. Information about respirator use in specialty trade contractors, with about two thirds of the respirator use in the construction industry and a high number of indicators of an inadequate respiratory protection program, will also help address barriers. NIOSH staff analyzed the composite data from focus groups conducted during 2000-2004 and continues to disseminate results via trade journals.

Based on the joint BLS/NIOSH respirator survey and publication (disseminated 5000 hard copies, 11,000 CD-ROMs, and over 7000 visits to the NIOSH web site), OSHA and MSHA posted alerts on their web sites about potentially fatal airline respirator hazards. OSHA used project data to develop the assigned protection factor portion of the 29 CFR 1910.134 respirator standard. Under this project, there have been 14 presentations and 12 manuscripts published.

Hypothesis: The application of interventions can result in improvement of respiratory protection program elements in the road and transportation industry.

Goals: Evaluate respirator programs of 30 companies at constructions sites in the 4 Bureau of Census regions. Conduct air sampling at 7 of the sites. Conduct interventions at 24 of the 30 sites.

This project combines the work of industrial hygienists, epidemiologists, statisticians, organizational and behavioral experts, and respirator certifications personnel in a NIOSH interdivisional effort. We also will work with BLS and OSHA as well as industry trade organizations and unions.

This project is being conducted internally, with contract support and interagency agreements to leverage resources and gain necessary expertise in certain subject matter.

The time frame for this project extends through FY2010. However, the intervention phase will be complete by the end of FY2009.


NIOSH has established a “strategic goal” for developing a

system of surveillance of occupational exposures. Since

respiratory protection is one method commonly used by

employers to reduce occupational exposures, NIOSH further

wishes to collect, analyze, and disseminate information about

respirator use and the associated respirator programs among U.

S. employers. The information collected will include barriers

encountered by respiratory protection programs, as well as

methods of addressing those barriers. More specific objectives

include the following: • Evaluate (in conjunction with the

National Academy of Sciences) and update information

regarding respirator use gathered via the survey and focus

groups during 2000-2004 by NIOSH and the

Bureau of Labor Statistics o Identify any shortcomings in

survey methods and previous analyses of the survey data.

• Obtain new information from the

National Demolition Association regarding respiratory

protection programs that have been found to be effective. The

National Demolition Association has relatively well-developed

respiratory protection program guidelines with widespread

implementation by members who participated in the focus

group discussions. • Observe respiratory protection programs

within a select sample (approximately 30) of the road and

transportation building industry, and the respirator interface

with other PPE, to identify current barriers to effective

respiratory protection, using objective evaluation criteria.

• Gather air sampling

data from 7 of the same worksites to document the levels of

exposure to selected substances if no respirators are worn.

Examples of substances to be sampled include silica, paint

vapors, and welding fumes. • Develop methods (i.e.,

interventions) of addressing the barriers to effective respiratory

protection. • Implement those interventions at approximately

80% of the select sample worksites, with the remainder being

viewed as controls. • Evaluate the effectiveness of the

interventions, using the same objective criteria, at the same

select worksites through return visits. • For successful

interventions, introduce the intervention throughout the

industry through trade association and unions. • Conduct

industry-wide surveys before and after the industry-wide

interventions to assess their effectiveness.

Barriers identified during the 2000-2004 focus groups include: Administrative

barriers to respiratory protection: o Employers reported that it

is “hard to get workers to wear respirators.” (They may have

“macho attitudes.” Construction site spread out and respirators

are a distance away so not worn by the employees.) o

Maintenance of records for training and fit testing o

Maintenance and storage of respirators under the conditions of

the project sites o Air monitoring for airborne levels of toxic

contaminants is difficult on small jobs o Workers’ use of

tobacco products o Facial hair o Enforcement of rules related to

wearing of respirators – difficult to replace workers who are

fired. Respirator design barriers to respiratory protection: o

Interference with eye protection o Filter resistance makes

breathing more difficult o Reduced peripheral vision with

supplied-air hoods o Incompatibility with high temperatures

and humidity (valves stick) o Weight of supplied-air hoses o

Lack of interchangeability of supplied-air hoses o Lack of

indicators for changing cartridges Economic barriers to

respirator protection: o Administration and evaluation of

questionnaires for fitness to wear respirators, as well as

physical exams, are costly o “Fitness to wear” questionnaires

and exams entail time away from work o OSHA respirator

regulations are perceived as written for large factories with

medical personnel on site, which is not the case for small

construction and painting contractors.

Page last updated:April 24, 2013
Page last reviewed:May 23, 2011
Content Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Office of the Director


NIOSH Program:


construction worker, crane, architect