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Industrial and medical respirators, many of which look similar, have the same function but perform their duties differently. If your work environment involves breathing otherwise harmless airborne particles (dust, pollen, sawdust, etc.), simple disposable dust masks are usually sufficient. If you are surrounded by auto spray paint, asbestos, or lower risk medical situations, a higher grade dust respirator that has a more effective rating at eliminating airborne threats is recommended. A good respirator mask will protect against a variety of dangers faced by the wearer. For example, painting respirators are very effective in eliminating both the particles and fumes generated by spray painting projects.
Air purifying respirators are appropriate when the airborne dangers are more potent and numerous. For instance, even with all the governmental controls placed on insect control in recent years, a good pesticide respirator is important to people working around these substances. A full face respirator, while sometimes uncomfortable, provides excellent protection against airborne threats that are very pervasive.
If you face a variety of potential threats, an air purifying respirator that accepts different respirator cartridges might be the best choice. For example, your current job site indicates you need a mold respirator as the air is filled with mold spores. However, soon you will move to a site that requires you to have a pesticide respirator. 3M respirators even offer you respirator selection software to help you select the correct device for the hazards you might face. With the ability to analyze over 700 different chemicals, the software can lead you to the right respirator selection.
If the threats you face are even more serious, an air supplied respirator is often recommended. By having their own pathogen free air supply, these models, either full face or half face respirators, further ensure that your oxygen is clean. Formerly used primarily by the military and the police, these usually dual cartridge respirator designs are now often used by medical personnel in proximity to serious airborne pathogens, like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), firefighters, and emergency response personnel in dangerous situations.
If you thought 3M respirators simply kept the dust out of the way, you'd be surprised to learn that they do much more. 3M respirators are designed to create the ideal breathing environment in areas that have high debris and dust. For instance, the 8000 3M respirator has an electrostatic charged filter media design which enhances breathability during use, as well as keeps the mask cooler. Features like an adjustable nose clip on the 8000 respirator helps to reduce fogging in goggles when worn with this mask. Practical applications for 3M respirators include areas where workers engage in construction activities or deal with material handling where a high level of dust occurs.
The 3M Company, well-known by consumers and professionals alike, offers excellent choices in particulate and chemical respirators. An added feature of 3M respirators can be very valuable to those new to the use of these items or those unsure of the correct unit for their situation. 3M offers free respirator selection software (you run it on the Internet) that can analyze over 700 chemicals and guide you to picking the best respirator for your situation. They also give you access to a 55-page respirator selection guide you can download (in PDF format) from the web to further educate potential users.
The 3M N95 respirator is one of, if not the most widely used dust mask. A 3M particulate respirator, like the N95 version, protects against many common airborne irritants (dust, pollen, sweeping, grinding, sawing, etc.) and some liquid (non oil-based) produced by sprays. This 3M respirator mask eliminates at least 95% (hence the numerical designation) of airborne particulates in the categories covered by its design. This low cost protection should NOT be used if you face gases, fumes, oil-based aerosols, asbestos, etc. as they are not designed for this level of protection.
3M does offer a full line of air purifying and air (atmosphere) supplied half and full face respirators to eliminate many, often more dangerous airborne particulates. In addition, they have recently replaced metal cartridges with plastic ones to eliminate some weight from their respirators and give you a higher level of comfort.
3M is not alone in the respirator and there are other companies offering effective OSHA respirators. For instance, the AO Safety respirator line is highly respected in the industry. From an excellent line of N95 respirator masks to homeland security approved “escape hoods” with their own self-powered fan to recirculate clean oxygen, AO is another excellent choice for protection against airborne threats.
Dust masks can provide the necessary filters from air borne dust particles from working with clays, gypsum, limestone and other materials. However, in order for dust masks to work properly, you need to make sure that you select the proper equipment and check for a well-fitted seal on the wearer. It's important to note that in some cases, it's possible that workers may not be able to effectively wear dust masks. For instance, in cases where workers have beards or sideburns, there could be an inadequate seal on the dust masks, making them ineffective from filtering dust particles. To help ensure the proper fit of dust masks, read all the accompanying literature regarding the use and precautions for the equipment.
There are a lot of hazardous airborne contaminants, vapors, fumes, viruses that can make your lungs, and your body, very unhappy. The kind of respirator you choose will depend on what nastiness you find yourself working in. The filtering capacity of respiratory masks varies according to the nature of the hazard. It is recommended that you buy respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for the particular contaminants to which you are exposed. For more details about respirators, check out NIOSH www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html or OSHA www.cdc.gov/niosh/database.html websites.
Supplied-air respirators (SARs) supply clean air from a compressed air tank or through an air line. This air is not from the work room area. The air supplied in tanks or from compressors must meet certain standards for purity and moisture content (e.g., CSA Standard Z180.1-00: Compressed Breathing Air and Systems). Supplied-air respirators may have either tight-fitting or loose-fitting respiratory inlets. Respirators with tight-fitting respiratory inlets have half or full face pieces. Types with loose-fitting respiratory inlets can be hoods or helmets that cover the head and neck, or loose-fitting face pieces with rubber or fabric side shields. These are supplied with air through airlines.
It can be confusing shopping for respirators. The fact is, there are a lot of different types of PPEs that go by the name respirator. Some act simply as dust masks and keep the dust out while others cover the whole head and filter out the noxious and toxic. The short list includes: respiratory masks, gas masks, respiratory protection, breathing masks, breathing apparatus, niosh respirators, 3m respirators, msa respirators, respirator masks, full face respirators, fresh air respirators, supplied air respirator, respirator cartridge, air respirators, osha respiratory protection, n95 respirator masks. Whatever you call them, respirators are a vital piece of personal protective equipment.
There are no government regulations that dictate you must wear a respirator when working around the house. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't if the need arises. If you are the average homeowner/do-it-yourselfer, you have probably created the need for a respirator on more than one occasion. It's easy to do. Just use a power saw to cut lumber. Do some sanding. Run the router. Refinish that table you got at a yard sale. Knock out that bedroom wall. The list is endless, but the bottom line is: Always keep a supply of respiratory masks on hand for those times when you need to kick up a little dust.
An estimated 5 million workers are required to wear a respirator in 1.3 million workplaces throughout the United States. Respirators protect workers against insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, and sprays. These hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment, other diseases, or death.Respirators protect the user in two basic ways. The first is by the removal of contaminants from the air. Respirators of this type include particulate respirators, which filter out airborne particles; and "gas masks” which filter out chemicals and gases. Other respirators protect by supplying clean respirable air from another source. Respirators that fall into this category include airline respirators, which use compressed air from a remote source; and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), which include their own air supply.Respirators should only be used as a "last line of defense" when engineering control systems are not feasible. Engineering control systems, such as adequate ventilation or scrubbing of contaminants should be used to negate the need for respirators.
There are respirators and there are respirators. The kind we are referring to here are not the high-tech medical apparatus that assist very ill patients to breathe. We're talking about the respirator mask worn over the nose and mouth that is used to protect the throat and lungs. Made from different filtration material these PPEs strain out the bad stuff that's in the air allowing you to breathe easier—and safer. The next time you are hard at work, or play, and you sense there's “something in the air”, you might want to reach for a respirator.
Here's the skinny from OSHA on respirator classes.
The two main types are air-purifying respirators (APRs) and supplied-air respirators (SARs).
Air-purifying respirators can remove contaminants in the air that you breathe by filtering out particulates (e.g., dusts, metal fumes, mists, etc.). Other APRs purify air by adsorbing gases or vapors on a sorbent (adsorbing material) in a cartridge or canister. They are tight-fitting and are available in several forms:
mouth bit respirator (fits in the mouth and comes with a nose clip to hold nostrils closed - for escape purposes only)
quarter-mask (covering the nose and mouth),
half-face mask (covering the face from the nose to below the chin), or
full facepiece (covering the face from above the eyes to below the chin).
Respirators with a full facepiece also protect the eyes from exposure to irritating chemicals.
Like all other personal protective equipment (PPE), respirators differ greatly depending on the level of hazards faced by the wearer. For example a disposable dust mask is a totally different product than a military-issue, dual cartridge respirator designed to protect against chemical warfare. There are three basic respirator formats:
Air purifying respirators are more effective than dust masks as they are offered with cartridges and/or filters that can eliminate specific particles, gases, fumes, or other airborne threats. Some designs will accept different cartridges/filters if you face a variety of hazards.
Air supplied respirators, often affectionately called “gas masks”, are designed for the most dangerous hazards, where purifying the surrounding air might still carry the risk of allowing pathogens to find their way through the process. Some of these might even have their own “power” in the form of a fan to help air flow. All respirators, from the simple particulate respirator to the most sophisticated chemical respirators, impose some level of breathing difficulty as compared to normal. Consequently, those with lung deficiencies, very young children, elderly people, etc. should use these devices with great care.
The easiest distinction you could make: A dust mask, regardless of its sophistication, is a purely passive device while a respirator is an active instrument. A mask can be manufactured to eliminate common airborne particles (dust, pollen, paint specks, insulation, etc.) or enhanced to eliminate more serious particulates and even liquid hazards. Most of these are disposable respirators and are simple, low cost safety solutions.
Air purifying respirators are more complicated and provide higher level protection. Chemical respirators eliminate numerous harmful airborne materials. You can use either full face respirators or half face respirators to control these hazards. Many forms of paint also present breathing dangers and using a paint respirator can save you from both current and, often, future breathing problems. Asbestos has proven, over time, to be a very dangerous substance to humans. Asbestos respirators are available to protect removal workers better than a mere dust mask.
Using an air purifying respirator or an air supplied respirator allows the proper respirator cartridge, possibly combined with your own self contained air supply, to more actively eliminate dangerous particles, gases, fumes, or chemicals from entering your lungs. However, whether using a passive dust mask or active respirator, the object is to trap harmful substances and allow cleaner oxygen to enter your body. The “quality” of the potential hazard is the key ingredient to your decision on what level of respirator mask to use.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|