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OSHA: employers must measure respiratory hazards

Under OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard, all employers must evaluate respiratory hazards in the workplace before determining if their workers need respirators. This, as employers in Texas should know, was the decision that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came to back in September 2019.

The court made its decision after hearing a case about inadequate tests that were being made of respiratory hazards in a marine vessel repair facility. The superintendent, who was designated as the "competent person" to conduct tests, had failed to consider the hazard found in welding fumes. OSHA inspectors also found that the workers there were suffering due to improper ventilation.

There are permissible exposure limits for chemicals, but the testing did not always take these limits into account. The repair facility challenged OSHA's findings, but the court supported OSHA and stated that the Respiratory Protection Standard is clear. One does not evaluate respiratory hazards only after determining that respirators are needed as the plaintiffs argued; one must do it beforehand as OSHA argued.

In light of this decision, then, companies may want to reevaluate how they determine when workers are at risk for exposure to airborne contaminants. They should also have measures in place that take into consideration any foreseeable emergencies like ventilation failure.

Wherever there is a failure to uphold the highest workplace safety standards, there is a greater risk for on-the-job injuries. Victims, whether they were injured in a fall or through continual exposure to harmful chemicals, may file for workers' compensation benefits and be reimbursed for medical expenses and part of their lost income. To be eligible, victims do not need to prove that anyone was negligent; they may, however, need to mount an appeal if the claim is denied, which is why hiring a lawyer may be wise.

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