Breathing – To Retirement, and Beyond!

Of all the things I tend to take for granted (sometimes) in life, breathing is one of the basics.  As in:  sun’s gonna rise, my heart is still thumping, got air, and they took taxes out of my check.

Luckily, managing and maintaining apartments doesn’t involve many situations that can change that whole easy breathing thing.  But, there are jobs that your maintenance staff members do on a regular basis that might cause them to have problems later in life.  We’ve all seen the unfortunate folks who have the oxygen tank on wheels and the permanent airline.  As the saying goes, that’s just how they roll.  There is no pill you can take that will fix lungs that can’t process enough oxygen to keep your major organs functioning. 

There is a safety standard that addresses those specific issues that I suspect many in our business haven’t paid quite enough attention to.  You’re busy grinning and bearing it and doing more with less!  I work on safety every day and to me it is not so much about checking the box on some federal safety law (although that’s important too) as it is preventing people from losing their ability to effectively breath later in life. 

So, I’m going to give you a starter kit for complying with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard.  I’ll call it the RPS for short. 

Under the RPS, it’s up to each employer to determine if there are respiratory hazards in the workplace, and if so, to take steps to protect their employees.  Each apartment community is different in terms of what hazards are present and what work is done by your employees versus work that is contracted out.

Hazardous atmospheres can only be two things:  oxygen deficient or contaminated.  The first one is pretty rare.  One example would be a carbon monoxide buildup caused by poor venting of the exhaust from a device burning some type of fossil fuel (petroleum).  Or you could have a release of a chemical accidentally in an area that is not ventilated properly, such as pool chemicals that got wet when they were not supposed to and released their chlorine in your pool equipment room.

Contaminated atmospheres contain particulates or chemical fumes.  A lot of chemical products are volatile, which means they automatically convert to a breathable form such as a vapor once you pour them out of their container and start using them.  Examples of particulates include materials known to be hazardous such as lead-based paint dust and asbestos fibers and also include non-regulated materials like sheet rock dust and mold spores.

Whether your employees are wearing respirators for regulated hazards or just because they think it is a good idea (voluntary usage), there are requirements for employers under the RPS.  OSHA would prefer that hazards be eliminated, for instance by ventilation.  They refer to that control of hazards as engineering or work practice controls.  If that approach can’t be applied on a particular work practice then your employees may have to rely on a respirator to protect their lungs from exposure to these materials. 

The usage of respirators (including some of the paper kind) may require you to train your employees on the RPS, send them to medical monitoring, get them fit tested and possibly even have a written site specific plan for respirator usage.

There is a website with lots of free guidance that can help you comply with the RPS and protect your maintenance staff and residents from respiratory hazards.  It is called the Respiratory eTool you can check it out on OSHA’s website.

Learning about and implementing these requirements is one of the best things you can do to insure that your maintenance people do not end up with chronic respiratory issues.