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Findings of Survey Co-Developed by NIOSH Will Help Respirator Research

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
March 22, 2002

Results of a new survey of employers will help the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention�s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and others develop new recommendations for the use of respirators in workplaces and design new research projects to improve the effectiveness of respirators.

NIOSH funded and helped design the voluntary survey with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS administered the survey, tabulated the responses, and reported the results.

The findings of the survey will help NIOSH and others better understand the patterns of respirator use in workplaces. For example, the survey will provide new data on how often respirators are used voluntarily, how often they are required, the types of respirators used, the types of agents that respirators are intended to protect against, the existence and features of written workplace programs on respirator use, and the usefulness of respirator labels and instructions.

The survey covered U.S. companies in the private sector that use respirators as a component of ongoing occupational safety and health programs. Respondents included employers from manufacturing, construction, mining, agriculture, health care, and services.

The findings reported by BLS included the following estimates about private industry establishments that require the use of respirators:

  • In the 12 months prior to the survey, respirators were used by 3.3 million employees in 281,800 business establishments, which represent 3.1 percent of all employees and 4.5 percent of all business establishments in the U.S.
  • Dust masks were the most commonly used respirator, comprising 71 percent of all respirators used.
  • Paint vapors and dust were the most common agents that air-purifying respirators were worn to protect against, while paint vapors and solvents were the most common agents air-supplied respirators were worn to protect against.
  • In 59 percent of establishments, employees were trained to understand the use and limitations of the respirators they wear, survey respondents reported.
  • Material Safety Data Sheets were used by 57 percent of the establishments to determine the appropriate type of respirator.

By providing current data on respirator use, the survey will help NIOSH and others recommend changes for more effective administration of respirator programs, including recommendations on educational and informational initiatives. The results also will help NIOSH identify methods to modify its respirator certification program if appropriate, and areas where further research related to certification may be needed.

NIOSH conducts research to improve respirator performance and use. Through a longstanding testing and evaluation program, NIOSH certifies respirators used to protect workers as part of an employer�s overall occupational safety and health program. Under new certification rules that build on the established program, NIOSH also will approve respirators for use by emergency responders for chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological exposures.

Further information on NIOSH�s respirator certification and research programs is available on the NIOSH web page at Further information on the results of the BLS survey is available at