Court rules employers must test air to select right respirator

Employers in New Jersey received clear guidance from an appeals court decision regarding the Respiratory Protection Standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The federal court ruled that employers need to measure and evaluate all respiratory hazards to determine the necessity of respirator use among workers. The results of the air evaluation must also direct the selection of respirator type to ensure proper protection.

The case in question had reached a federal appeals court after a 10-year journey through the legal and regulatory system. In 2009, welders at a shipyard had complained to OSHA about poor air quality in the enclosed spaces where they were welding inside marine vessels. OSHA compliance officers responding to the complaints reported that fumes were visible in the work areas and ventilation was inadequate. The superintendent of the worksite had evaluated the air quality prior to welding activities. Welding releases fumes containing fluorides, barium compounds, manganese and iron oxide. Workers inhaling these fumes can suffer respiratory illnesses.

OSHA cited the employer for 13 violations. The company contested the agency’s findings, and an administrative law judge sided with the employer. OSHA advanced the case to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission where, once again, the employer won. On OSHA’s final appeal to the federal court system, the judges affirmed the safety violations and decided that the Respiratory Protection Standard presented clear rules.

Exposure to a toxic substance at work could sicken a worker. Workers’ compensation insurance might pay the worker’s medical care and provide a disability settlement if necessary. A person does not need to prove employer negligence to apply for benefits after a workplace injury or illness. The services of an attorney might help someone overcome barriers to benefits arising from the employer or insurer.

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