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RFID Helps Satisfy OSHA Rules for Industrial Respirators

Colden Corp. has begun using passive high-frequency tags to track the inspection and maintenance of the respirators used by factory workers.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 09, 2009Industrial hygiene service provider Colden Corp. is saving several hours of labor per week, as well as gaining a greater amount of inspection and maintenance data, by scanning RFID tags on the 3M respirators it services. The system helps the company track when its employees inspect respirators at a northwestern Pennsylvania locomotive manufacturer (that asked to be unnamed). The three inspectors who utilize the system carry handheld interrogators that they use to read the ID number on each respirator they inspect. The data is then stored on a Web-based system hosted by 3M, which manufactures the respirators, as well the RFID system itself.

Until spring 2009, Colden managed all of its inspection sites manually. The company provides weekly inspection and maintenance services on safety equipment for a variety of firms—frequently manufacturers. OSHA requires that such respirators be cleaned, maintained and tested. To track the service provided, for its own records as well as for the manufacturer, Colden's inspectors used pen and paper to manually record the ID number of each piece of equipment, as well as its condition and the service provided.

A 3M RFID-tagged respirator
At the end of the day, the inspectors brought the paperwork back to the office. There, an employee entered all of the data into the computer, where it was stored on an Excel spreadsheet and prepared for the customer. The process was not only time-consuming, says Christopher Wesley, a principal at Colden, but it could also be error-prone, since employees could record the numbers or other details incorrectly, including which individual was using which piece of equipment.

Colden is now trialing an RFID system, however, that is resolving these problems, Wesley says. 3M has been using RFID tags for tracking items such as files in offices for approximately a decade, according to Larry Ptastenski, the new business development manager of 3M's Occupational Health & Environmental Safety division. When its customers began complaining of their difficulties tracking inspections, 3M started looking for an RFID-based solution.

"Industrial hygienists have been having trouble measuring whether the safety plans they have in place are working properly," Ptastenski explains. "So that's how we got started. One of our strengths is leveraging technology across our organization." Since 3M had already been providing RFID solutions to some of its other customers, he says, the movement into tagging respirators was an easy adjustment. The company tested RFID tags on respirators in 2008, to track their movement into and out of a tool crib at a manufacturing company in Australia, and this year began making the solution available to Colden, its first U.S. customer for that system.

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