Millions of workers are required to wear respirators in various workplaces including construction. Respirators protect workers against insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, and sprays. These hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment and diseases.
OSHA recently cited an Ohio manufacturing company for exposing employees to respiratory, chemical, and other hazards. OSHA cited the company for 17 serious and five other safety and health violations, and faces penalties of $183,748.
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 air-purifying respirators with cartridges/canisters which filter out chemicals and gases. Other respirators protect by supplying clean respirable air from another source.
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.
Respirators work by either filtering particles from the air, chemically 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.
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 facepiece or mask, and a cartridge or canister. Straps secure the facepiece 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.
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.
If your mask does not make a tight seal all the way around your face when you inhale, you may breathe contaminated air that leaks around the edges of the face seal. Most dust masks and respirators can be worn under a hard hat.
The only way to tell if a tight-fitting respirator fits you properly is to fit test the respirator. Fit testing should be done by a health and safety professional before workers wear a respirator in a hazardous environment. Respirators must be checked for proper fit each time they are donned to ensure they provide adequate protection.