Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes respirators, protective clothing (including gloves and footwear) and face and eye protection, which can reduce or prevent contact and the absorption of a designated substance. Depending on the type of workplace, sector-specific regulations under the OHSA may also set out requirements with respect to PPE.

Protective clothing

Protective clothing protects against the harmful effects of a designated substance in two ways:

  • It can be a direct barrier between the substance and the skin. This is important when the substance can either damage the skin directly or be absorbed into the body through the skin.
  • It can prevent the contamination of a worker’s street clothing or hair and reduce the chance of the substance being absorbed by the worker after leaving the workplace and contaminating areas used by other workers and the public.

The control program should specify cleaning procedures to decontaminate clothing used during work.  Workers handling the contaminated clothing must also be protected from exposure to the designated substance.


In keeping with best industrial hygiene practice and the requirements in this regulation, respirators should not be the first line of defense against airborne exposures and their use as a control measure is restricted under section 18 of the regulation.

How respirators protect workers

A respirator allows the user to breathe uncontaminated air by one of two methods:

  • by acting as an air purifier by passing ambient air through a filter, cartridge or cannister that removes specific contaminants as the air is breathed in
  • by supplying clean air to the user from an external source

Types of respirators

Based on these methods, respirators fall into two general categories:

Air-purifying respirator

Air- purifying respirators are available in two modes of operation: air-purifying respirator (non-powered) and powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR).


Respirator that uses an air-purifying filter, cartridge or canister that removes specific air contaminants by passing ambient air through the air-purifying element.


Respirator that uses a powered blower worn by the worker to pass ambient air through the air-purifying element (such as a filter, cartridge or canister) that removes specific air contaminants and then supplies the purified air to a helmet, hood, facepiece or visor.

Atmosphere-supplying respirator

Atmosphere-supplying respirators are available as:

  • airline respirator
  • self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
  • multifunctional SCBA/airline respirator

The regulation sets out definitions for different kinds of respirators, which are summarized below:

Airline respirator

Respirator that consists of a respirator and an air supply hose attached to a hood or helmet, a tight-fitting facepiece, or a loose-fitting facepiece or visor, that is supplied with compressed breathing air from a compressed breathing air system. Air may be supplied in one of two ways:

  • continuous-flow: a positive pressure is maintained within the helmet, hood, facepiece or visor
  • pressure-demand: a positive pressure is maintained within the facepiece and the air is supplied on inhalation
Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)

Respirators with a portable source of breathing air that is independent of the ambient air.

When to wear respirators

In most situations, employers comply with the occupational exposure limits (OELs) by means of engineering controls, work practices, and hygiene facilities and practices. The use of respirators as a means of controlling exposures is permitted under the circumstances listed in section 18 of the regulation (for example, an emergency exists, the measures and procedures necessary to control the exposure do not exist, or are not reasonable or practical to adopt for the length of time of exposure, etc.).

A worker who is exposed to any level of an airborne designated substance however may request a respirator from his or her employer, and the employer must provide a respirator in response to the request.

Respiratory protection program

Employers who provide a worker with a respirator must comply with the requirements of the respiratory protection program set out in sections 26.1 to 26.5 of the regulation. The requirement to comply with the respiratory protection program also extends to situations where an employer provides a respirator to a worker upon their request.

Under section 26.1 of the regulation, employers providing respirators have general duties, including to:

  • ensure that respirators are selected, cared for and used by workers in accordance with the regulation
  • establish written measures and procedures that address the selection, care and use of the respirators
  • provide instruction and training in the care and use of the respirator before a worker first uses it that includes:
    • limitations of the respirator
    • inspection and maintenance of the respirator
    • proper fitting of the respirator
    • cleaning and disinfecting the respirator

Respirator selection

Respirator selection is a key consideration in ensuring that workers using respirators are adequately protected and only breathe clean air. The regulation sets out a number of requirements for respirators.

There are a wide variety of respirators available for purchase that may look alike but do not perform the same. To address this, the regulation requires that respirators be NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) approved or approved by another testing and certification agency where in the opinion of a person qualified in industrial hygiene practice, among other things, it affords at least equivalent protection to a NIOSH-approved respirator(subsection 26.2(1)).

In addition to requiring respirators to be NIOSH approved or equivalent, the regulation requires the employer to ensure that respirators provided:

  • are appropriate in the circumstances for the form and concentration of the airborne designated substance in respect of which the respirator is to be used (clause 26.1(1)(a))
  • meet or exceed the applicable assigned protection factor (APF) set out in Schedule 2 of the regulation. Note: The APFs are based on CSA Standard CAN/CSA-Z94.4-18, Selection, Use and Care of Respirators (September 2018) (subsection 26.2(1), para. 2)

Note:  This CSA standard may be viewed on the ministry’s website for free or purchased from the CSA store.  

  • are selected with regard to:
    • the airborne concentration of the designated substance to which the worker is exposed (calculated in accordance with Part I of Schedule 1 of the regulation) and the maximum use concentration of the respirator
    • the manufacturer’s information on the intended use, scope and limitations of the respirator
    • the potential for an atmosphere with an oxygen concentration of less than 19.5 per cent, an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmosphere or oil in the atmosphere (subsection 26.2 (2))

The regulation also contains additional specific requirements for respirators that may be applicable in particular circumstances (see subsections 26.2(3),(4) and (5)).

Tight-fitting respirators

Tight-fitting respirators are designed to form a complete seal with the user’s face or neck.  For this reason, they cannot be provided by employers to or used by workers with facial hair that interferes with the seal of the facepiece to the face or the functioning of the respirator (subsection 26.4(3)).

To ensure an effective seal and that users of tight-fitting respirators are receiving the expected level of protection, the regulation requires that:

  • they be tested for fit using a qualitative fit test or a quantitative fit test that meets CSA Standard CAN/CSA-Z94.4-18, Selection, Use and Care of Respirators (September 2018) (subsection 26.4(1))
  • workers using tight-fitting elastomeric respirators conduct positive and negative pressure user seal checks prior to every use (subsection 26.4(2))

Note:  This CSA standard may be viewed for free or purchased from the CSA store.  

Breathing air

There are additional requirements for respirators that are supplied with breathing air from an air cylinder or a compressed breathing air system. They include the following:

  • R equiring breathing air to meet the purity requirements set out in Table 1 of CSA Standard CAN/CSA-Z180.1-13 (R2018), Compressed Breathing Air and Systems (2018) and, depending on the system, to be tested every six months (subsection 26.2(5), paragraphs 1 and 2)
  • R equiring location of air intakes to be in accordance with certain requirements in CSA Standard CAN/CSA-Z180.1-13 (R2018), Compressed Breathing Air and Systems (2018) (subsection 26.2(5), paragraph 3).

This is to minimize the intake of contaminants from sources such as local exhaust outlets, equipment /vehicle exhausts, or sources of industrial activity.

Note: This CSA standard may be viewed on the m inistry’s website for free or purchased from the CSA store.

  • Re quiring compressed breathing air systems using an oil-lubricated compressor to supply the breathing air to be equipped with a continuous carbon monoxide monitor equipped with audible and visual alarms that activate at 5 ppm and calibrated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions (subsection 26.2(5), paragraph 4).

This is to address the risk of the compressor breaking down and producing dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Respirator use, care and maintenance

Workers must not be assigned to an operation that requires the use of a respirator unless the worker is physically able to perform the operation while using the respirator (subsection 26.3(2)).  

To meet this requirement, potential respirator users should complete a respirator user screening form. This can be used as the basis to determine whether to assign a respirator to a worker. More information on respirator user screening forms, including a sample form, is found in CSA Standard CAN/CSA-Z94.4-18, Selection, Use and Care of Respirators (September 2018).

This CSA standard may be viewed for free or purchased from the CSA store.  

The regulation requires that respirators must be used, cared for and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions (subsections 26.3(1) and 26.5). When there is doubt about the limitations of a respirator, manufacturer’s advice should always be sought.

Familiarity and adherence to the respirator manufacturer’s instructions, product information or procedures help ensure that respirators work effectively and adequately protect workers.