As a business owner, you have an obligation to protect your employees. You’re expected and required to create a workplace that is safe from both seen and unseen dangers. This is your ethical responsibility and, often times, your legal responsibility. If you’re curious about protecting your workers from respiratory illnesses, read on for more information about the level of your responsibility depending on the type of business you have.
If you’re in charge of an office where everyone has a desk and chair and sits in a cubicle, your responsibilities might include making sure the chair is sturdy and won’t break; making sure that the desks are the appropriate size and height for each employee, and making sure panels aren’t falling from the ceiling. It’s also important that you provide a properly heated and cooled office space. And you, or the landlord you’re leasing from, must make sure that the place is clean and not overflowing with refuse.
If you manage a bank, you might need to make sure the tile floors are covered so people don’t slip on them. You need to make sure that your tellers, and the cash, are behind bulletproof glass. In addition, it just makes good business sense to ensure your customers feel safe, which is why most banks have security guards.
If you run a business where you’re concerned about your employees developing respiratory illnesses, first make sure that all the work areas are properly ventilated. This is the simplest and easiest way to protect your employees from dust and fumes.
If you own a hair salon, you know that fumes and chemicals from hair dyes can be irritating to both eyes and lungs. Make sure the HVAC system works and that you have fans going to lessen the impact of any fumes. If you’re able to open windows, even better.
After ventilation, your next best course of action is a breathing mask—and these are as varied as the jobs that require them. Some jobs and workplaces that are exposed to breathing irritants are obvious, but others are not. In a candy factory, your employees might wear paper masks to protect the food from their coughs and sneezes, but in a paint factory, the employees will probably need industrial respirators to protect them from the fumes. You’ll have to follow any legal requirements as determined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Below are just a few work environments where respiratory masks might be necessary:
- Automotive Repair Shop
- Oil Refinery
- Shooting Range
Even if you run a business that deals with airborne contaminants, not all of your employees will be exposed. For example, a taxi dispatcher who works from home won’t be exposed to the exhaust fumes that the taxi mechanic will be. The dispatcher probably won’t need a respiratory mask, but the mechanic—if he or she is working directly with automotive fumes— will.
Work roles that require may breathing masks include:
- Pest exterminator
- Hair dresser
- Toll booth worker
Within a single role, an employee may not always require respiratory protection. A farmer certainly needs a breathing mask when you apply pesticides to your crops, but you probably won’t need any when you’re milking cows.
Types of Respirators
Once you’ve checked the legal requirements and assessed your specific workplace, you’ll need to find a supplier who carries and is knowledgeable about the full range of respirators, from disposable paper masks to self-contained breathing apparatus. You’ll also need to match up the mask type with your employee’s role.
- Disposable, paper mask is appropriate for a sous chef
- Industrial respirator is appropriate for firefighter
Ease of Use
Another thing to consider—a mask is only beneficial if it is used. If a mask is uncomfortable, an employee might not wear it—thereby foregoing any benefits to his or her respiratory health. So make sure the mask is easy to put on and adjust. You and your employees might want to try a few different types of masks before settling on one.
If a mask doesn’t properly fit, it won’t really help the employee. If the mask is too large, then the air isn’t being properly filtered, and if the mask is too small, it will be too uncomfortable for the employee to wear. Masks do come in different sizes just like faces, so discuss your sizing options with a reliable supplier.
Erring on the Side of Caution
While the rules and regulations for compliance cover the bare minimum of employee protection, it is up to you to ensure that everyone on your team stays safe. If you’re unsure about an environment and the product best suited for it, talk to your supplier about your options. Invest in the highest-quality respiratory mask that also meets your employees’ needs and your legal obligations.