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NIOSH Celebrates Respiratory Protection Week


Breathing is taken for granted by most of us. For the estimated 5 million U.S. workers required to wear respirators to do their job well and safely, the evolution of respiratory protection, a critical piece of personal protective equipment (PPE), takes on a different meaning.

During the week of Sept. 3-6, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) celebrated 100 years of respirator protection and certification with the first annual Respiratory Protection Week.

A century ago, the U.S. Bureau of Mines initiated the first respirator certification program and certified the first respirator to protect miners from oxygen-deficient and toxic atmospheres. Since 1919, through two world wars and the introduction of chemical warfare agents, various inhalation and environmental threats, and advances in science and technology, respirator protection expanded and became even more exact and adequate for a variety of industries and occupations, standards were developed, and there was a significant move from advisory to mandatory protection.

Today, NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) is responsible for respirator certification and carries out research, testing and related activities specific to respirator protection and other protective equipment. While the appearance of respirators has changed over the years, the goal remains the same: to protect workers from respiratory hazards on the job, from emergency responders who are first to enter a hazardous scene to healthcare providers treating patients with Ebola to life’s evergreen exposures and future emergencies.

“Respiratory Protection Week honors both the history and the future of the efforts by researchers and practitioners to protect workers from airborne toxins,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “NIOSH’s own ongoing work in respiratory protection represents both a century’s worth of experience in preventing disease for millions of working men and women who have relied on respirators to protect their lungs, and a new century’s research in developing improvements in respiratory protection.”

Respiratory protection is the cornerstone of NPPTL’s efforts. One of the primary functions of the laboratory is to carry out testing procedures and recommend respirators for approval, therefore ensuring a level of standard filter efficiency for all respirators used within a U.S. workplace setting. NPPTL’s respirator certification program exists to increase the level of worker protection from airborne chemicals and vapors and therefore reduce the amount of worker illnesses.

Since 2012, NIOSH has recognized Sept. 5 as N95 Day, raising targeted awareness of respiratory protection and specifically of N95s, the most common type of particulate filtering face piece respirators. This year, N95 Day was expanded to Respiratory Protection Week.