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Work-related respiratory diseases are common in the construction industry, but many cases can be avoided by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. Learn more about respiratory protection for construction workers and find NIOSH-certified respirators from MediDent Supplies.

For construction workers in particular, it’s important that PPE complies with the applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) / NIOSH requirements for the construction industry in particular (Respiratory Protection 1910.134).

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Respirator basics

A respirator is a type of protective equipment that is worn over the lower half of the face, covering the nose and mouth, that protects the wearer from inhaling hazardous substances. In order to choose the best respirator for your workplace, a workplace hazard analysis and risk assessment must be conducted by experienced safety hygienists or other experts in your field.

How do respirators work?

Respirators function by either filtering the air breathed in by the wearer, or by supplying clean air from another source. They fit into four basic categories: particulate respirators, chemical cartridge/gas mask respirators, powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

Particulate respirators are the type most commonly used by construction workers for onsite job protection, such as N95 or N100 masks. Particulate respirators include half-piece and full-piece cartridge respirators, as well as filtering facepieces, also known as dust masks.

Why is a respirator needed?

Some job sites require exposure to harmful particles, dusts, chemicals, or other substances. Breathing in these hazards can cause permanent lung damage, cancers, diseases and can even be fatal if no protective measures are taken. Particulate respirators, when worn properly, offer the best possible respiratory protection for construction workers by filtering out up to 95 – 100% of particulate matter in the air.

Common hazardous construction materials

  1. Dust/Fibers from substances such as coal, asbestos, silica, textiles, or even food particles.
  2. Fumes from heating or cooling materials.
  3. Organic irritants like spores, animal hair or dander, or plant proteins.
  4. Smoke from burning materials.
  5. Gasses from high-heat operations or chemical labs.
  6. Sprays like lacquers, pesticides, and solvents.

Common diseases caused by construction work

  1. Asbestosis. Asbestosis is commonly associated with construction work. It is caused by inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers. This can lead to scarring over time.
  2. Silicosis. Often contracted in manufacturing facilities, foundries, and mines, silicosis occurs when airborne silica is inhaled.
  3. Brown Lung Disease, aka Byssinosis. Brown Lung Disease is caused by inhaling particles from natural textiles such as cotton. It can cause difficulty breathing and chest pain.
  4. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is caused by an allergy to organic substances such as spores or bacteria. This disease can cause inflamed areas in the lungs, leading to fibrous tissue and eventually, scarring.
  5. Work-related asthma. Work-related asthma can be caused by a variety of environmental irritants, and produces asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing. For more information, please see Limiting the Risk of Work-Related Asthma.

OSHA requirements for respiratory protection for construction workers

Once a hazard analysis has determined that the use of respirators is necessary to protect employees on the job, construction employers must implement a PPE program that conforms to OSHA Respiratory Protection 1910.134. This program must include:

For more information, please see OSHA’s Guide to Respiratory Protection in the Construction Industry and the CDC’s A Guide to Respirators Used for Dust in Construction.


Work-related lung diseases are preventable. The best prevention is to stay away from the substances that cause lung problems, but this is not always possible. Other preventative precautions include:

N95 respirators

In an explanation on proper use of PPE, the CDC states that N95 respirator masks provide the best protection because they “[…] reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne particles, from small particle aerosols to large droplets. N95 respirators are tight-fitting respirators that filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, including large and small particles.”

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