Building a Respiratory Protection Program


One of the toughest safety programs to keep functional through high turnover rates, multiple continuous maintenance availabilities (CMAV), and dry-docking selected restricted availability (DSRA) is the respiratory protection program. The program involves maintaining a high level of knowledge and accountability on the deckplates of how the program works, and strong leadership to establish and maintain the program. Below are the lessons learned from the USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98) as she prepared for the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) in August 2017.

Establishing a functional and efficient Respiratory Program

  1. Develop a shipboard instruction utilizing OPNAVINST 5100.19E, Chapter B6 (Respiratory Protection) and 29 CFR 1910.134, Respiratory Protection (NOTAL). The shipboard instruction at minimum should focus on qualitative respiratory fit test protocols, list specific respiratory disqualifying conditions, and include the commands recent Industrial Health Survey (IHS). Standard operating procedures that govern the selection, maintenance, issue, and use of respirators should also be included.
  2. Select and qualify a respiratory protection manager (RPPM) which requires attendance at CIN A-4J-0082, which is offered by the Naval Occupational Safety Health and Environmental Training Center. Recommend sending two additional RPPMs for personnel flexibility.
  3. Determine all respirator operators to be medically qualified, fit tested, and trained on proper operating procedures. At a minimum, an active roster should be maintained in relational admin (RADM) of all respiratory program participants. The RPPM shall maintain a roster to include: name, rate/rank, division, department, date of current PHA, date of fit test, fit test medium and size.
  4. Conduct a review of the program annually and an audit of the inventory semi-annually, performed by the Safety Officer, to provide focused feedback on program deficiencies.

Building a Shipboard Culture to Support

When Forrest Sherman departed her 2016 DSRA in the fall of 2016, more than 20 percent of the original crew since entering the dry-dock period had departed the ship. This high turnover rate led to challenges in maintaining the respiratory program and general shipboard level of knowledge about respirators at a level required.

The most important element in a successful safety afloat program is that the crew understands how to smartly execute safety procedures and more importantly, understands detailed command, and Navy-wide safety instructions and expectations. Safety is a team sport.

The first step the Forrest Sherman safety team took was establishing a strong cadre of safety petty officers to execute the safety mission. Twenty safety petty officers were selected to cover the eighteen divisions through the command. In addition to the required personnel qualification standard (PQS), each safety petty officer was required to complete the Safety Afloat course required for the safety petty officer NEC 9571 designation. This allowed every division onboard to have a knowledgable safety representative at the deckplate – a significant safety force multiplier!

The next step is selecting a strong leader for the respiratory program. BM2 Sean Huntsman was selected to attend the RPPM school aforementioned. Upon returning, BM2 was instrumental in establishing the respiratory command instruction. BM2 empowered the safety petty officers to provide the deckplate forceful back-up to ensure Sailors who operated respirators were medically qualified, fit tested, and properly trained.

Ensuring one hundred percent accountability of all respirators operated on the ship was the most difficult task. Numerous respirators were located around the ship in spaces where contractors had worked and it was essential no sailor operated these respirators. This accountability was incorporated into the zone inspections in which inspectors were briefed to collect and turn in all respirators to BM2 Huntsman. Within two weeks full accountability was achieved.

Retraining the entire crew was the next step and required utilizing the ships deckplate cadre of safety petty officers to help train and provide a helpful link in directing any concerns or questions to BM2 Huntsman, the Forrest Sherman RPPM. The training first focused on raising shipboard level of knowledge through understanding the basics of hazard assessment and maximum use concentrations (MUC), two critical elements of respirator operation. Chapter B6 from the OPNAVINST 5100.19E, The Navy Safety and Occupational Health Program manual provides excellent guidance on understanding these terms. The hazard assessment is determining the type of contaminant and its concentration and this assessment is the most important consideration in the selection of respirators. The MUC is for a class of respirators that determines the maximum level of protection that a class of respirators can provide against a contaminant.

Establishing a respirator program is no easy task but BM2 Huntsman, with the support of the Forrest Sherman safety team and command leadership, led the charge. There is no allowable error for “getting it wrong” when it comes to safety. As a result of the hardworking efforts of the Forrest Sherman safety team and lessons learned documented above, the ship received high marks with a 92 percent overall in NAVOSH programs and the respirator program was out briefed as “one of the best on the waterfront.”

LT Blake Lusty is the assistant safety officer aboard the USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98).

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