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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Need Respirators for Emergency and Post-Emergency Response?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Aug 21, 2011 10:36:09 PM

Sarah Damaskos with Paula Kaufmann, CIH

When recalling our onsite environmental, health and safety work following 9/11, Emilcott’s health and safety staff often discuss that respirators were either not worn or improperly worn by many first responders and subsequent waves of workers and construction crew members at Ground Zero. Not surprisingly, ten years later the news media are churning out plenty of stories detailing the life-threatening health effects developing in many of these people -- possibly linked to their exposure to airborne dust and chemicals present at the World Trade Center site.
So, we wondered, what should you do if there is a BIG EMERGENCY AND your employees are involved in emergency and post emergency response AND you need lots of respirators (or components) AND you need them fast (maybe even on a weekend or, worse yet, a holiday weekend)? The tenth anniversary of 9/11 seems like a good time to re-examine the issue.

The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard mandates that anyone required to wear a respirator must be trained in the use and limitations of the respirator and medically evaluated (cleared) for respirator use, and fit tested for the specific respirator that they are going to wear. To streamline the distribution of respirators and replacement cartridges, the Respiratory Protection Program Administrators first goal will be to obtain the particular brand and sizes of respirators already assigned to users.  If you are the Program Administrator, how are you planning to get more of the right respirators to meet the demand of an emergency or post emergency response?  How can you protect your staff while supporting their job function or personal drive to help during an emergency? How can you balance the humanity of response and action with the practicality of insurance and policy?

With these questions in mind, we contacted several respirator manufacturers and distributors to find out their recommendations for emergency preparedness. The information supplied below is from either the company website or from calls made to their main 1-800 “contact us” phone number.

  1. Develop and implement an Emergency Response Plan. Emergency Response Plans are designed specifically to help you plan resources and responsibilities so that you can react to disaster with maximum readiness. And, OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.120(q) requires entities engaged in emergency response to provide appropriate training to their workers; to use an incident command system; to develop a written response plan that includes personnel roles, lines of authority and communication, site security and control, medical and emergency alert procedures; and to provide workers with appropriate protective equipment. (Yes, that includes respirators and all the components required.)

  2. Stockpile! It’s time to (realistically) calculate the number of respirators and supplies needed to to last (x) days. If there’s a large-scale disaster, everyone and their brother will be fighting to locate, purchase and ship what they need from any resource available. If you have a carefully planned stash, you’ll have the breathing room to address about other looming problems!

  3. Develop a relationship with your distributor. We talked to 3M, Moldex, MSA and North (Honeywell) -- none of these manufacturers sell direct to anyone outside of the federal government. That means that respirator-related purchases are made from equipment distributors such as Grainger and AirGas.  We recommend sitting down with your local distributor or sales rep to determine what they offer to help you in the event of an emergency including how to contact them during non-business hours.


Grainger has a dedicated Emergency Services webpage outlining the range of services they offer to customers and communities including a toll free emergency line. George Barmann, EHS Engineer at Grainger, noted that, “Whatever it is, whenever it is needed – around the clock in some cases – we work hard to get emergency supplies from any of our worldwide locations to the target location. Employees have often worked at the emergency site to ensure that the right equipment is in the right place.”


Airgas’s toll-free number is answered around the clock and kicks off mobilization efforts that are scaled to meet demand. Local stores respond first followed by regional and then warehouse stock allocation to ensure that product dispersal goes where it is needed as quickly as possible


4.  Know your manufacturer’s sales rep. Each manufacturer has an online sales rep locator who is a primary contact in emergency and non-emergency situations. Calls to North, 3M and MSA tech support and customer service lines, revealed above-and-beyond assistance. North sets up an informational webpage for crises like the gulf oil spill with information and links. MSA offers a 24-hour staffed phone line and the company has created site mobilization efforts to meet large-scale, special needs using a combination of distribution channels and direct contact including onsite fit testing and drop shipments to the client. Their sales representatives are available 24x7 to find added resources and determine extra outreach efforts.  3M has a comprehensive respirator website with a range of training information handouts, online videos and other resources. They also have two subscription-based e-newsletters offering occupational health and safety applications and product information. 3M’s local sales representative noted that 3M offers pandemic and emergency preparedness planning and resources as well as fit testing for very large groups. 3M has created a special one-stop web section, “Hazards in the News” to inform readers about 3M’s response action to specific events like the earthquake in Japan or types of hazards such as flood, noise, or influenza.


5.  Call the manufacturer. When we called to ask about emergency preparedness and how the manufacturer can help, all four companies pointed to the distributor as the primary contact but assured me that production can be increased almost instantly to meet product demand, and allocation is shifted so that emergency response is the first priority for distribution. Each manufacturer emphasized that response to national disasters is developed on a case-by-case basis to best determine how to respond most effectively.


For personnel in charge of employee EHS in non-emergency situations, they know that success is dependent upon planning and preparation. In fact, the less you hear about work-related illness and injury, the more likely that it is a result of an effective and supported occupational health and safety program. If an emergency does indeed arise, the planning, relationships and gathered information come together to form the decision-making backbone to ensure that the right quantity of specified equipment is available at the moment it is most needed. It’s at least one response action that you can breathe easily about.

What are some steps that you have taken to prepare for emergencies? What has been the incentive provided by management to ensure that emergency preparedness is a priority?  Have you had help from either a respirator distributor or manufacturer to ensure that you are ready?

Topics: General Industry H&S, General EHS, Emergency Response, H&S Training, worker safety, Personal Protective Equipment, 9/11, preparedness, respiratory protection, Exposure, respirators

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