Respiratory protection standard rises to 3rd most cited OSHA violation for 2020.

Respiratory Protection

2020 was a year like none we’ve ever seen before. It challenged us, changed the way we lived our lives, and placed a greater emphasis on our health and safety across industries and for the general public. Because COVID-19 has threatened our respiratory safety, this has placed respiratory protection in the spotlight and been a key topic of discussion and interest for businesses and governing regulatory bodies. With the 2020 fiscal year results in, OSHA have announced their top 10 most cited violations, and it’s no surprise the respiratory standard has risen in the ranks and placed at number 3 for last year.

Over the past decade, fall protection, hazard communication, and scaffolding have held their places consistently, never falling outside of the top 3 spots. With the respiratory protection standard making its way into the 3rd spot, this is reflective of the increased use of PPE throughout the pandemic, changing safety standards, and a lack of training and knowledge throughout the industries that require respiratory protection.

The respiratory protection standard is a set of guidelines that employers must adhere to in order to protect their employees and create safe workplaces. As part of the standard, this includes clear instructions around respirator selection and use, implementation of a respiratory program, training, record keeping, air quality testing, medical evaluations, cleaning and disinfecting and the list goes on. Of the citation violations in 2020, there were 3 citations that made up the bulk of those that were issued, and all of which were very simple to resolve to ensure employees are adequately protected. These are as follows:

  1. 1910.134(e)(1): The employer shall provide a medical evaluation to determine the employee’s ability to use a respirator, before the employee is fit tested or required to use the respirator in the workplace.
  2. 1910.134(c)(1): In any workplace where respirators are necessary to protect the health of the employee or whenever respirators are required by the employer, the employer shall establish and implement a written respiratory protection program with worksite-specific procedures. The program shall be updated as necessary to reflect those changes in workplace conditions that affect respirator use.
  3. 1910.134(f)(2): The employer shall ensure an employee using a tight-fitting respirator is fit tested prior to initial use of the respirator, whenever a different respirator facepiece (size, style, model, or make) is used, and at least annually thereafter.

These violations highlight the fact that although employers may have the best of intentions by supplying respiratory protection, this is simply not enough to maintain compliance. The National Emphasis Program (NEP) is now being rolled out and with this, increased programmed and unprogrammed site visits are going to occur, there is no doubt that the respiratory protection standard is going to continue to be targeted over the next year. Therefore, employers need to look at the aspects of the respiratory protection standard that are being cited and action these appropriately at their workplace in order to protect their workforce and to avoid unnecessary costs to business.

Works Cited

Druley, K. (2021, March 28). OSHA’s Top 10 most cited violations for FY 2020. Retrieved from Safety + Health:

OSHA. (n.d.). 1910.134 - Respiratory Protection. Retrieved from United States Department of Labor: