General Respiratory Protection Guidance for Employers and Workers

General Respiratory Protection Guidance for Employers and Workers

What is a respirator?

A respirator is a protective gear that protects wearer from inhaling harmful substances such as gases, dust, mist, vapors, fumes, chemicals and infectious particles.

Respirators serve as most important tools while working in hazardous environments. Selection of respirator depends upon the kind of workplace operations, processes or environments that may create a respiratory hazard.

Before you choose the respirator, identify the hazard and its airborne concentrations. You can ask an experienced safety personnel or by an industrial hygienist.

How do respirators work?

Depending on the type of respirator, it either filters the air particles by purifying the air or by supplying clean air from the container to which it is attached.

There are several different types of respirators, as described below.

Particulate Respirators: 

Particulate respirators are easily available face mask that are least expensive, and least protective of the respirator types available in the market. They only protect the wearer from dust particles and other air particles but do not provide protection against chemicals, gases, or vapors, and are intended only for low hazard levels.

These respirators are used against low level of hazards. Generally these are known as N95 masks. These respirators are also known as air purifying respirators asthey clean particles out of the air as you breathe.

Particulate respirators:

These respirators filter our dusts, fumes, and mists.

They are disposable masks or respirators with disposable filters.

These must be replaced once they becomes discolored, damaged, or clogged.

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask Respirator:

These are higher rated respirators and provide greater protection as compared to disposable masks. They filter or clean chemical gases out of the air as you breathe.

These respirators include facepiece or mask, and a cartridge or canister. The cartridges used in these types of respirators filters out the chemicals or gases and they must be replaced after 40 hours of work.

Gas masks works best when they are used with the correct cartridge or filter for a particular biological or chemical substance. Here wearer has to wisely choose the filters that will serve the purpose for which they are wearing the respirator.

An expert help while choosing the correct filters is must with gas respirators. Always remember that there is no all in one cartridge that protects against all substances.

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask respirator:

1: These respirators are used with chemical cartridges or canisters to remove the contaminant.

2: Generally the filters/cartridges used in these respirators are color coded so that you can choose the right one.

3: These respirators are used with different kinds of cartridges to protect the wear from multiple hazards.

Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR): These respirators use a fan to draw air through the filter to the wearer. It is easy to breathe through these respirators and they also need a fully charged battery to work properly. Filters are used in these to purify the air and it is important to choose the correct filter set in order to get proper protection from it.

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA):

These respirators contain their own tank to supply clean air. They are not used with filters and clean air is provided to breathe through the tanks they are attached to.

They are generally used where the air is not healthy to breathe and at the environment where there is low concentration of air is present. They also protect against higher concentrations of dangerous chemicals. You will find fire fighters wearing these types of respirators. They are heavy and require very special training on how to use and to maintain them. Usually they supply air for an hours or less depending upon how you breathe.

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus:

  • They provide clean fresh air to breathe from the tank they are attached to.
  • These respirators are used when air is simply too dangerous to breathe.

How are particulate filters classified?

Generally there are 9 classes of particulate filters and these are further broken down into 3 series known as N, R, and P. Each series (N, R, and P) is available at three efficiency levels: 95%, 99%, and 99.97%. The N series filters are used where environments is free of oil mists. The R series filters can be used where oil mists is available but they are worn for only one work shit. P series filters are better that both N and R series and they can be used for longer work hours. They are also used in environment where oil is present.

What is the color coding for gas mask chemical cartridges/canisters?

All cartridges are assigned a color designating the type of contaminant they filter:

 GAS filter colors

Are there any special maintenance or storage conditions?

Wearer must ensure that they clean their respirator face piece after each use. It should be clean, sanitary, and in good working order. Users must always check the manuals that come with the respirator at the time of purchase. After use respirator must be disassembled and the face piece of the respirator must be washed, rinsed, and should be put back together when it is dry. The purpose of cleaning the respirator after uses it to prevent it from becoming unsanitary. In addition, respirators worn by more than one user must be cleaned and disinfected before being worn by a different user, and emergency use respirators must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

While disposable respirators like N95 cannot be cleaned or disinfected. They must be disposed after use or when they become dirty or get damaged.  Also, the filters of the respirators must be washed and should be changed after 40 hours of use or when it gets tough to breathe through them.

It is also important to inspect respirators and its filters before each use and during the cleaning and disinfecting process. If there is any damage to the respirator or filters then please replace them.  

Always store the respirator and filters in a cool and dry place. Filters if opened from the pack must be used within 6 months. Keep both respirator and filters in a seal tight pack after use. To prevent cross contamination, filters and respirators should be removed from the respirator and should be stored separately.

What size of respirator should I choose?

Always choose the size of respirator according to your face size. Many respirators come in three sizes that are small, medium and large.

Respirator must provide a good fit to your face and it should provide tight seal around your face so that no chance of any air leakage is left. You can adjust the respirators with the adjustable straps they have.

Life of filters and respirators?

You can use filters for around 40 hours of work. You can also change them once it gets breathing tough through them. Use the filters within 6 months once you open the pack. If the filter is not opened and is safely stored, they have a shelf life of up to 5 years. The face piece of respirator also have life of around 5 years.

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