Posted by: Green Knight | March 10, 2011

Respirators, Part III (plus more chemical no-nos)

I once taught a class for a big lead smelting operation.  Their respirators and cartridges (filters) looked fine, both made by the same manufacturer — NEVER mix and match — but my old inspector vibe was on, and I saw that the cartridges weren’t on the approved list for the facepiece.  That could have been a violation!  So while I was there, I called the manufacturer.  It turned out that the filters WERE approved, they just hadn’t updated the mask instructions.  Did I just say thanks and hang up?  Hell, no, I got the woman’s name and direct phone number and added the info to the client’s file, so if an OSHA inspector showed up later, they’d have it to hand.

The downside to that story is that the operation was in such sad shape that their safety/enviro engineer hadn’t ever had a respirator “fit test” HIMSELF, after having worked there the entire 28 years the place had been open, and despite them having state of the art quantitative fit-testing equipment onsite.  They’d already been fined $13 million by OSHA at one of their other facilities, and this one is now also gone, leaving behind a Superfund cleanup.  You can’t just get hired, throw on a mask, and go to work; you have to be trained, fit-tested, and have a medical evaluation first.  This applies to roofers, demolition workers, ANYBODY who is exposed to hazards on the job.  Companies cutting corners on safety to save money eventually get busted, and money’s nice if you live to spend it.

The chemical no-no this time is about always having Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for products being used on the job.  Any employee who uses a product requiring an MSDS is supposed to have had hazard communication training first, and the MSDSs are supposed to be available for review at any time, in a convenient location.  One of the facilities where I used to teach went through a lot of spray glue, because that’s what asbestos workers use to put up their plastic enclosures.  I noticed that the ingredients on the MSDS didn’t match those on the can, even though the hazards were basically the same.  Once again, I called the manufacturer and got a current copy for the files.  Paperwork can get away from you if you neglect it.

P.S. thanks to Sperian for my replacement half-face respirator!  Gonna use it when I give an Earth Day talk at a local elementary school.


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