In 2001, the “Survey of Respirator Use and Practices” gathered information on respirator use from 40,000 randomly selected U.S. establishments. It collected data on the types of respiratory protection workers used, types of respirator fit tests performed, and presence of substances that prompted the decision to use respiratory protection.

The findings raised questions regarding respirator usage practices and how these practices compare with U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommendations.

Program quality indicators

Each of the indicators listed below is an important part of an effective respirator program. If the answer to any of these questions is no, it may indicate that an operation's overall quality of respiratory protection is inadequate and improvements may be needed:

  • Does the program include a trained respirator program administrator?
  • Has management adopted a written respirator program that determines how respirators are used?
  • Does the program include written procedures for maintaining respirators?
  • Are wearers of tight-fitting respirators fit-tested?
  • Are employees assessed for medical fitness to wear respirators?
  • Does the program provide training regarding the need, use, limitations, and capabilities of respirators?
  • Do written procedures include periodically evaluating the effectiveness of respirators?
  • Are airline respirator couplings incompatible with other gas systems at the establishment?
  • Is there a written change-out schedule for air-purifying gas/vapor filters?
  • Are dust masks used (filtering-face-piece respirators) to protect only against dust, but not gases or vapors?

This report focuses on information from the respirator use and practices survey collected from establishments in the concrete products, stone, clay, and glass industries. This includes manufacturers of flat glass; glass and glassware; cement; structural clay products; pottery and related products; cut stone and stone products; and abrasive, asbestos, and nonmetallic mineral products (Standard Industrial Classification 32).

Findings and discussion

About 18%, or an estimated 3000 manufacturers, in this classification used respirators for required purposes in 2001. This was higher than the percentage of establishments using respirators in the parent industry of manufacturing (12.8%) and all of private industry (4.5%).

Among the types of respirators used, air-supplied respirators were used in 3.1% of concrete products, stone, clay, and glass facilities, compared to 0.7% of all private industry. Also, employees in these industries used respirators in greater proportions than employees in private industry as a whole, 8.1% versus 3.1%.

Operations in these industries (handling raw materials, cutting, chipping, and grinding during manufacturing of glass and glass products, hydraulic cement, brick and structural clay tile, ceramics, pottery, porcelain electrical supplies, ready-mixed concrete, abrasive products, and mineral wool) can result in exposure to airborne contaminants and agents, such as silica dust, man-made mineral fibers, coatings, and solvents. Exposure to silica dust can cause silicosis.