Respiratory Protection Program

The primary goal of the Respiratory Protection Program is to protect students, staff, and faculty whose job requires the use of respirators to provide protection from hazardous inhalation exposure.  There are several ways in which a respirator can fail to protect the user, and the elements in the Respiratory Protection Program are meant to prevent those failures from occurring.  To ensure that respirators provide users with adequate protection, all respirator users on campus need to enroll in the Respiratory Protection Program. 

Your respirator may not protect you if…

  • It’s the wrong type for the exposure
  • It does not fit correctly
  • It is not donned/doffed correctly and does not create a mask-to-face seal
  • It’s dirty or damaged
  • It becomes the hazard (wearing any negative pressure respirator places a burden on your lungs)

The Respiratory Protection Program provides…

  • Assistance with respirator selection
  • Fit testing
  • Training on proper donning and doffing procedures and user seal checks
  • Training on proper storage and maintenance
  • Medical evaluations to ensure that users are able to wear a respirator

Why do I need Respiratory Protection?

It is the policy of the UMass Amherst to provide its employees with a safe and healthful work environment. 

The guidelines of the University's Respiratory Protection Program are designed to minimize employee exposure to occupational airborne contaminants such as harmful dusts, smoke, gasses, vapors, sprays, and hazardous bio-aerosols, as well as oxygen deficiency.  

This is accomplished, as far as feasible, by accepted engineering control measures, such as enclosure or confinement of the ‘hazardous’ operation, general and local ventilation, and substitution of less toxic materials.  However, when effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being implemented or evaluated, respiratory protection may be required to minimize employee exposures.  In these situations, respiratory protection shall be provided at no cost to the employees. 

UMass Amherst Respiratory Protection Program ensures employees who use respirators understand their capabilities and limitations.

All members of the University community who wear respirators to safely fulfill their campus tasks must participate in the University's Respiratory Protection Program.

When do I need Respiratory Protection?

Working conditions under which respirators are most often used involve work in:

  • Confined or enclosed spaces;
  • Welding or soldering;
  • Animal and biological research facilities;
  • Atmospheres with potentially high concentrations of toxic gases, vapors or dusts;
  • Paint spraying;
  • Dust generating activities (e.g. cutting/grinding/sanding materials such as wood or stone);
  • Oxygen-deficient atmosphere (less than 19.5 percent oxygen at sea level);
  • Atmospheres immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH);
  • Pesticide and fertilizer application;
  • Hazardous materials handling;
  • Asbestos abatement;
  • Other areas where exposure level is at or above the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of the contaminant

How To Get A Respirator: Process Flow

Step 1: Workplace Evaluation for Exposure/Hazard Assessment

The first step is to contact the Respiratory Protection Program Administrator (RPPA) by filling out a Respirator Use Request Form.  EH&S will help you determine if respirators are required by conducting a workplace hazard evaluation to determine:

  • whether atmospheric contamination exceeds or is likely to exceed the hazard limit and
  • the most effective and efficient means of respiratory protection for you

You may also be part of an existing user group that has established required respiratory protection for certain work tasks, in which case you can proceed to step 2 below.  If not, the RPPA will work with you or your supervisor to find methods to reduce the levels of atmospheric contamination. If such methods offer insufficient protection and respirators are required, proceed to the next step, medical evaluation.

Step 2: Medical Evaluation

Because the use of respirators can place a burden on the body and aggravate some medical conditions, medical evaluations are required before a worker is fit-tested and told to wear a respirator. Of special concern is the health of workers who suffer from heart disease or respiratory problems.  Fill out the medical clearance form to begin the process.

The Occupational Health Nurse (OHN) will contact you for discussion and/or appointment.  After determining the employee’s ability to use a respirator, the OHN will provide the RPPA with a written recommendation stating whether the employee is medically able to use a respirator or not and if there are any limitations on respirator use. 

NOTE: Employees are not permitted to wear respirators until the OHN or a physician or other licensed healthcare professional (PLHCP) has determined that they are medically able to do so.  Any employee refusing the medical evaluation will not be permitted to work in an area requiring respirator use.

Step 3: Respirator Selection and Fit Testing

After receiving medical clearance for respirator use, the RPPA at EH&S will contact the employee to schedule a fit test and assist with respirator selection based on the workplace hazard assessment.  

The flowchart below gives a general overview of the types of respirators and their function: 
(Note: this is not a comprehensive list of available types/models of respirators)

Types of Respirators and their functions

Once the respirator type has been finalized, the RPPA will conduct a quantitative fit test (QNFT) using a PortaCount machine to determine if the make, model, style, and size of the respirator intended to be used fits your face.  The purpose of this test is to verify that the respirator does not leak and provides adequate protection.  Anything on the face (e.g. facial hair, piercings) that may interfere with the mask-to-face seal must be removed to effectively wear a tight-fitting respirator (e.g. dust mask or elastomeric half/full face respirator).  The RPPA will conduct initial and annual respirator fit testing for all respirator users in accordance with Appendix A of the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134.  Repeat fit testing may be required if the respirator wearer or PI/supervisor notices changes in the wearer's physical condition that could affect fit and if a different face piece is used.

Annual fit testing and training is required. The RPPA will notify you when it is time for renewal.

There is no charge for fit testing by EH&S.  It is the PI/supervisor's responsibility  to provide, and pay for, all personal protective equipment, including respirators.

Step 5: Training 

Training on proper respirator usage, maintenance, storage and repairs will be provided at the time of fit testing. Respirator training routinely covers:

  • Why the respirator is necessary
  • What protection the respirator can give if properly fit and maintained
  • The limitations of the respirator
  • How to inspect, put on, remove and use the respirator
  • How to do user seal checks; Positive pressure and negative pressure checks
  • How to use the respirator in emergencies, including conditions in which the respirator malfunctions
  • How to recognize medical signs and symptoms that may prevent or limit effective use of the respirator
  • The general requirements of OSHA’s respirator protection standard.

Retraining must be given at least annually, or when changes in the workplace or in the type of respirator used makes previous training obsolete. New or transferred employees must be given their respirator training before being required to use the respirator.

Contact Respiratory Protection Program Administrator (RPPA):


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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the regulations and policies governing respiratory protection?

I want to use a respirator.  What should I do?

Contact the RPPA by filling out and submitting the Respirator Use Request Form.  EH&S will help you determine if respirators are the right choice, and if so, what kind.

I already have a respirator.  Do I still need to enroll in the Respiratory Protection Program?

Yes.  The only exception is "voluntary use" (see the next question) of a filtering facepiece respirator (i.e. N95 disposable dust mask).

What is meant by "required respirator use"?  How is this different from "voluntary use"?

Required Use is where one of the following situations have occurred: 

  • EH&S has determined that your exposure to a specific airborne contaminant exceeds, or is likely to exceed, an established occupational exposure limit (OEL).  OELs are put in place to protect the health of workers.
  • Your supervisor or department has chosen to require respiratory protection as part of a specific job task.

All other use of respirators is considered voluntary.  Individuals may chose to wear respirators when it is not required as a precautionary measure.

Voluntary use of filtering face piece type respirators (i.e. N95 dust masks) does not require medical clearance, although it is recommended.  Voluntary use of all other types of respirators does require that users complete the medical clearance questionnaire and be medically cleared.  The RPPA will provide all employees who choose to wear respirators on a voluntary basis as part of their job functions with a copy of Appendix D from the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard as required.

Who is responsible for paying for my respirator and related supplies?

It is the PI/supervisor's responsibility to provide, and pay for, all  required personal protective clothing and equipment, including respirators.  PIs/supervisors are not required to pay for or provide respirators worn voluntarily, however, they are required to pay for any fees associated with medical clearance.

Why can't I have a beard and wear a tight fitting respirator?

Facial hair can interfere with the seal of a tight fitting respirator around the mouth and nose.  Even stubble can creat leaks and expose you to airborne contaminants.  Mustaches can sometimes be allowable if these do not cover any part of the seal area. This CDC/NIOSH Blog post provides a good illustration of acceptable and unacceptable facial hair.