December 2013

Using OSHA inspection data to analyze respirator protection program compliance


Respiratory protection standard

OSHA’s respiratory protection standard was promulgated on January 8, 1998 and took effect on October 5, 1998. It has over 150 separate provisions within the 13 major sections of the standard—1910.134(a) to 1910.134(m).

In brief, these are the RP standard’s requirements for employers:

  • Employers must provide respirators where needed to protect workers’ health.
  • When respirators are required, employers must establish a written RP program which assures that the activities below will be carried out.
  • When employees wear respirators when they are not required to, the employer must establish a partial RP program to ensure that respirator use itself does not harm the worker.
  • Employers must assess whether respirators are needed and provide the appropriate type.
  • Employers must make sure that employees are medically fit to wear respirators and that tight-fitting respirators have the proper fit.
  • Employers must ensure that workers wear their respirators appropriately and that equipment is properly cleaned and maintained.
  • Employers must train workers to use respirators properly.
  • Employers must keep records to document that the preceding steps have been carried out and periodically evaluate their RP program.

Data and methods

The OSHA Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) collects information from inspections carried out by compliance officers. Since 1991, the IMIS has included data from every state. We obtained inspection data from OSHA through 2006 and linked all violation data to the inspections in which the violations were cited. However, the IMIS does not have a common identifier either at the establishment or the firm level. (In the IMIS, the term “establishment” generally refers to a single workplace or facility.) Although some linking can be done by simple name and address matching, there are variations in how names and addresses are recorded, which can leave uncertainty in many cases. Because linking at the establishment level is important for this study (as well as many others), we rely on probabilistic matching to link inspections to the establishment level.7

In 29 states, the federal OSHA directly operates the enforcement program in the private sector. The other states operate their own enforcement programs upon OSHA’s certification that the state’s program is “as effective as” the federal program. The great majority of these “state plan” states have adopted all of the federal standards and use the same codes. However, a few states, including California, Oregon, and Washington, have their own distinct set of standards for all or some hazards. For this reason, we excluded these three states from this analysis.

The IMIS variables that we use in this study include

  • number of employees at the establishment
  • Standard Industrial Classification
  • inspection type—e.g., programmed or complaint
  • safety or health inspection
  • scope—comprehensive or limited
  • union—yes or no
  • whether a worker accompanied the compliance officer
  • year—i.e., opening date of the inspection
  • standards cited
  • current violation type—e.g., serious, other than serious

Table 1 presents the number of RP violations cited by OSHA in different industry sectors from 1999 to 2006. We present our findings for the manufacturing sector as a whole and for the major 18 two-digit industries within manufacturing. We excluded inspections in tobacco (SIC 21) and leather (SIC 31) from our data because of the small number of inspections in each industry.

Table 1. Numbers of establishments requiring respirator use and cited for respiratory program violations (RP violations), 1999–2006
IndustryTotal in industryNumber inspectedNumber with health inspectionsNumber with at least 1 RPVNumber with RPVs cited in health inspectionsPercent of total with at least 1 RPV (=col4/col1)Percent inspected with RPVs (=col4/col2)Percent with health inspections where RPVs were cited (=col5/col3)Percent requiring respirator use (RUPS)
All manufacturing325,74694,81340,33911,3979,0593.512.022.0
SIC 20—Food products18,1577,1473,1157135703.910.018.020.0
SIC 22—Textile mill products5,5491,4736891271132.
SIC 23—Apparel17,1171,38650961480.
SIC 24—Lumber and wood31,11212,2683,5388845992.
SIC 25—Furniture10,0263,7861,6445464155.414.025.018.0
SIC 26—Paper5,6712,216910108811.
SIC 27—Printing, publishing52,2722,9651,28391740.
SIC 28—Chemicals10,5923,5852,5467486807.
SIC 29—Petroleum refining1,88662629481684.313.023.022.0
SIC 30—Rubber14,3116,8222,7866064914.
SIC 32—Stone, clay, glass14,3996,5834,0071,3371,1519.320.029.021.0
SIC 33—Primary metal5,7873,5192,04466858611.919.029.035.0
SIC 34—Fabricated metal32,60918,6107,1242,3801,7817.313.025.021.0
SIC 35—Machinery47,89410,9103,6171,1448492.410.023.016.0
SIC 36—Electric13,1172,8741,5663252812.511.018.021.0
SIC 37—Transportation equipment9,9616,1582,8411,02581010.317.029.041.0
SIC 38—Instruments9,2291,0195771261091.412.019.014.0
SIC 39—Miscellaneous manufacturing15,1122,8661,2494273532.815.028.019.0

Note: Column 1 (total establishments in industry) is based on 1997 County Business Patterns. All figures exclude California, Oregon, and Washington. RP violations exclude 1910.134(c)(2).

Sources: OSHA IMIS, BLS RUPS study, and authors' calculations.

Survey of respirator use in the private sector

In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) carried out a survey of respirator use on behalf of NIOSH. The mail survey of “Respiratory Usage in Private Sector Firms” (RUPS) was conducted from August 2001 through January 2002 using a representative sample of U.S. employers. Establishments included in the sample were selected from the Longitudinal Establishment Database, which is maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All establishments in the survey were located in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The final sample size was 40,002 private industry establishments. The survey provides estimates of the numbers of establishments and employees who were in establishments in 2001 where respiratory equipment was required or worn voluntarily during the previous 12 months.

The survey also provides estimates of the types of respirators used and information about how establishments have implemented OSHA’s respiratory protection standard. In addition, the survey provides breakdowns by establishment size as well as information about the types of hazards that the respirators are protecting against.


7 The program for doing this is described in Wayne B. Gray and John M. Mendeloff, “The declining effects of OSHA inspections in manufacturing, 1979–1998,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review (July 2005), pp. 571–587.

prev page2next page

View full article
About the Author

John Mendeloff

John Mendeloff is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the director of the RAND Corporation Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Maryann D’Alessandro

Maryann D'Alessandro is the director of the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hangsheng Liu

Hangsheng Liu is a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation.

Elizabeth Steiner

Elizabeth Steiner is a research assistant at the RAND Corporation.

Jessica Kopsic

Jessica Kopsic is a technical research analyst at MDRC.

Rachel Burns

Rachel M. Burns is a project associate at the RAND Corporation.