What Safety Respirators Do

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What Does a Safety Respirator Actually Do?

What Safety Respirators Do

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:

  • Dust masks – the generic term for nose and mouth covers that eliminate dust, pollen, and other airborne particulates. Those used in the medical profession offer additional protection against some pathogens and liquid penetration, particularly useful to safeguard against bodily fluid transfer.
  • Air purifying respirators – contain filters using inherent or infused substances that specifically purify the surrounding air being breathed by the wearer.
  • Air supplied respirators – contain their own self-contained purified air to further protect the user against airborne hazards that are difficult to eliminate from even purified air.
Most dust masks are disposable and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health) has issued simple ratings and approved standards for dust respirator efficiency. Their ratings range from N, R, and P 95 to 100. The letter designations relate to the mask's resistance to oil, with N being the least and P being the most. A numerical designation of “99” indicates that the mask eliminates 99% of all airborne particles.

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.



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