Celebrating 100 Years of Ensuring Respiratory Protection for American Workers

Join us in a virtual celebration of PPE and keeping workers safe.

September 03, 2019

Jan. 15, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Government’s first approval of a respiratory protective device for use by American workers. The U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) set the initial standards and issued its first approval to Mine Safety Appliances on Jan. 15, 1920.

In 1970, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) assumed responsibility for the respirator approval program, and as time progressed, so did research into respiratory protection.

NIOSH established the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) in 2001 to advance the knowledge and application of personal protective equipment (PPE) and technologies, as well as leadership and execution of the respirator approval program.

The laboratory conducts and sponsors research on various types of PPE, including respirators, ensembles, gowns and gloves. We respond to 500 public inquiries concerning PPE annually, including emergency response situations, issue hundreds of approvals, and conduct respirator and manufacturing site audits. Cumulatively, NIOSH has issued more than 9,000 respirator approvals. These respirators are listed in our searchable Certified Equipment List database.

Over 100,000 underground coal miners depend on life-saving respirators to escape from the hazards of a mine disaster, and NIOSH-approved respirators saved the lives of 10 Aracoma Mine workers in 2006.

Partly in response to the terrorist attacks in New York City, Shanksville, PA, and Washington D.C., NPPTL released the “NIOSH Interim Guidance on the Use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Full Facepiece, Air-Purifying Respirators/Gas Masks Certified Under 42 CFR Part 84” in 2005. The lab evaluated more than 340 standards for respiratory protection equipment from 32 countries and standards organizations for provisions specifically related to protection from chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents potentially used for terrorism. Today, 285 respirators have been approved for CBRN protections.

As the 2014-2016 global epidemic of the Ebola virus disease spread to the United States, PPE evaluations at NPPTL impacted national and international Ebola guidelines and recommendations. CDC released guidelines for disposal, cleaning and disinfection of respirators used in healthcare settings. The recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo shows the need for continued awareness of the risks associated with the disease. Leading respirator and gown research, as well as a national effort to ensure adequate supplies of various types of respirators and PPE during both normal operations and emergency situations, like pandemics, which can impact the health and safety of 12 million healthcare workers.

After public comment and review, NIOSH issued the final regulatory rules concerning enhanced performance of End of Service Time Indicators to warn firefighters so they have sufficient time for exiting hazardous environments to replenish their air supply.

As we honor America’s workers this Labor Day, please join us this week in a virtual celebration ahead of the 100th anniversary of respirator approval:

Visit the NSC Congress and Expo Sept 6-12 in San Diego, where thousands of exhibitors will showcase various PPE products at the largest annual gathering of safety professionals in the world.

Maryann D’Alessandro, Ph.D.

Maryann D’Alessandro, Ph.D., is director of the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, a field division of the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety of the Federal Government in Pittsburgh, PA, and Morgantown, WV. Jaclyn Cichowicz, M.S. is a health communication specialist also within NIOSH NPPTL.

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