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Respiratory protection

What is a respirator?

A respirator is a device that protects you from inhaling dangerous substances, such as chemicals and infectious particles. Respirators are among the most important pieces of protective equipment for working in hazardous environments. Selecting the right respirator requires an assessment of all the workplace operations, processes or environments that may create a respiratory hazard. The identity of the hazard and its airborne concentrations need to be determined before choosing a respirator. This assessment should be done by experienced safety personnel or by an industrial hygienist.There are several different types of respirators, as described below.

Using respiratory protection in the workplace can be beneficial, but it can also be a liability. Although providing workers with respiratory protection can reduce workers’ exposure to airborne hazards, death or serious illness can occur when respirators are used improperly.

How do respirators work?

Respirators work by either filtering particles from the air, chemically cleaning (purifying) the air, or supplying clean air from an outside source. Particulate Respirators: Particulate respirators are the simplest, least expensive, and least protective of the respirator types available. These respirators only protect against particles (e.g., dust). They do not protect against chemicals, gases, or vapors, and are intended only for low hazard levels. The commonly known

“Dust mask” is one type of particulate respirator, often used in hospitals to protect against infectious agents. Particulate respirators are “air-purifying respirators” because they clean particles out of the air as you breathe.

Particulate respirators:

• Filter out dusts, fumes and mists.

• Are usually disposable dust masks or respirators with disposable filters.

• Must be replaced when they become discolored, damaged, or clogged.

• Examples: filtering face-piece or elastomeric respirator.

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask Respirator:

 Gas masks are also known as “air-purifying respirators” because they filter or clean chemical gases out of the air as you breathe. This respirator includes a face-piece or mask, and a cartridge or canister. Straps secure the face-piece to the head. The cartridge may also have a filter to remove particles. Gas masks are effective only if used with the correct cartridge or filter (these terms are often used interchangeably) for a particular biological or chemical substance. Selecting the proper filter can be a complicated process. There are cartridges available that protect against more than one hazard, but there is no “all-inone” cartridge that protects against all substances. It is important to know what hazards you will face in order to be certain you are choosing the right filters/cartridges.

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask respirator:

• Uses replaceable chemical cartridges or canisters to remove the contaminant.

• Are color-coded to help you select the right one.

• May require more than one cartridge to protect against multiple hazards.

Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR):

Powered air-purifying respirators use a fan to draw air through the filter to the user. They are easier to breathe through; however, they need a fully charged battery to work properly. They use the same type of filters/cartridges as other air-purifying respirators. It is important to know what the hazard is, and how much of it is in the air, in order to select the proper filters/cartridges.  Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) is the respirator commonly used by firefighters. These use their own air tank to supply clean air, so you don't need to worry about filters. They also protect against higher concentrations of dangerous chemicals. However, they are very heavy (30 pounds or more), and require very special training on how to use and to maintain them. Also, the air tanks typically last an hour or less depending upon their rating and your breathing rate (how hard you are breathing).

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus:

• Provide clean air from a portable air tank when the air around you is simply too dangerous to breathe. All of these respirators (except for the “dust masks” or filtering face pieces) are available in either half-mask or full-face pieces.