The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently leveraged unique technical expertise from its Pittsburgh campus to help U.S. partners in Latin America protect workers from serious but preventable occupational illnesses.

NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL), in cooperation with the Chilean Institute of Public Health (ISP) organized the first international seminar in Latin America to focus on the importance of respirators and other personal protective equipment for preventing harmful occupational exposures to hazardous industrial chemicals, dusts, and other substances. This inaugural meeting on May 2-4 between U.S. partners and stakeholders from across Latin America provided an opportunity for discussion and education on how to improve worker safety and health through the use of PPE.

Technical experts from the Pittsburgh laboratory and from NIOSH’s Global Collaboration Program came together with their counterparts from ISP in Santiago, Chile, to conduct educational workshops. The NIOSH team addressed topics such as the process used by NIOSH to test and certify respirators for workplace use, NIOSH’s testing and quality control of approved products to ensure proper ongoing service, selection and use of respirators on work sites both in the United States and Chile (including the ISP guidelines), and the importance of certification. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, respirators intended for use in the workplace must be certified by NIOSH.

The seventy participants included representatives from the Ministry of Health and Labor, the International Labor Organization, multinational manufacturers of PPE, various academic bodies and industrial sectors such as construction and mining. In addition to the workshops, the NIOSH team conducted six audits on respirator manufacturers in Colombia, Chile and Brazil to assess if their products continued to meet the requirements necessary to maintain their NIOSH respirator certification status.

According to Maryann D’Alessandro, Ph.D., director of the NIOSH Pittsburgh-based laboratory, "International collaboration with organizations such as ISP is critical to enabling effective respiratory protection for the global workforce. These partnerships help promote international stability for U.S. business, continue the tradition of U.S. technological leadership globally, and provide information that we can use in turn to further worker health and safety in the U.S."

In Latin America, education on the proper selection and use of respirators is a high priority due to the large number of workers who use respiratory protection daily. According to an ISP survey, 80% of the respirators used in the workplace in Chile have been certified by NIOSH, assuring a high level of protection for those users when the devices are selected and used properly.