I. Introduction

This guide is for College of Saint Benedict  and Order of Saint Benedict workers who are required or may voluntarily need to wear respirators for protection in a health care facility. Review of this will also fulfill some of the federally required training aspects of a respirator program. It is not intended for qualifying the reviewer to conduct respirator program administration such as fit testing and general set up and running an adequate respirator program.


This guide will help you protect yourself through the proper use of respirators, against potentially contagious diseases that are primarily transmitted by droplets in the air we breathe.

Q: WHAT kinds of prevention measures are there?

A: The first step in preventing the spread of contagious airborne agents is to quickly identify, isolate and properly treat such patients. Other steps to reduce the spread include ventilation to remove the disease causing agent from the air in the breathing zone and directing the air through appropriate treatment that will destroy the disease causing agent. See CDC Publication MMWR for further information.

When you are in close contact with a potentially contagious patient, none of these steps will completely protect you, and respirators are needed.

Q: WHAT is a respirator?

A: A respirator is a protective facepiece, hood or helmet that is designed to protect the wearer against a variety of harmful airborne agents. Only certain types of respirators will protect you from specific agents, as explained later.

Q: DO I have to wear a respirator?

A: Wearing a respirator reduces your chances of becoming infected. Based on your job operation, your department in consultation with the Environmental health & Safety (EH&S), determine under what circumstances respirators must be worn and which employees are required to wear them. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standard that requires the use of respirators in performing certain specific tasks and may enforce their use under the general duty clause in other non-standard specific duties.

Q:  IS wearing a surgical mask acceptable?

A: No. Many surgical masks do not do a good job of removing all contagious agents. Some surgical masks fit so poorly that they provide very little protection from any airborne hazard.

Only NIOSH-certified respirators should be worn for protection against the specified agent(s). A surgical mask is not a respirator.

Q: WHAT else do I need to know?

A: You should carefully read the next three sections for information about different types of respirators and the importance of respirator use programs.

Advance to: II Respirator Information