Choosing Respiratory Safety Gear

Apr 26 2019

As another season of outdoor labor ramps up, along comes a shift in workplace hazards. Working outside in the spring and early summer means a less-regulated environment and new obstacles to overcome. In particular, it’s time to prepare for respiratory safety challenges. OSHA includes respirators among the most essential pieces of equipment for laborers, with five million workers wearing them for protection. OBBCO stocks a wide range of respirators, from the most common “dust mask” to the highest shielding. With so many available, finding the correct mask is a job itself. Our experts put together a quick guide to help determine the coverage best suited for you and your team.

Determine The Hazard
The first step in choosing the right mask is being aware of what you’ll face in the field.  Answering these questions will help guide your decision and identify potential atmospheric dangers:

  • What is the airborne hazard?
  • What is its nature (chemical properties, concentration in the air, particles, etc.)?
  • Is there more than one chemical?
  • What are the health effects of the airborne contaminant (carcinogenic, potentially lethal, irritating to eyes, absorbed through the skin)?
  • What are the characteristics of the operation or the process (e.g., hot temperature, confined space)?
  • What activities will the worker be doing while wearing the gear (e.g., strenuous work)?
  • How long will the worker need to wear the respirator?

Choosing The Correct Respirator
Respirators function by covering the nose, mouth and entire face or body. Not all are created equal, so understand the differences to determine the fit, filter-level, and coverage that’s right for your job.

There are two main classes of respirators, Air-purifying Respirators (APRs) and Supplied-air respirators (SARs).

Air-purifying Respirators (APRs):  Remove pollutants from the air by filtering out or absorbing dust, fumes, and mists as you breathe and the most widely used respirator. They are tight-fitting to create a seal against the skin. Three types of APRs exist:

Particulate Respirators: The simplest, least expensive and least protective of all respirator varieties available. These come as disposable half-masks. Commonly known as an "N-95" filtering facepiece or "dust mask".

  • Filter out particles like dust, fumes, and allergens
  • Do not protect against chemicals, gases or vapors
  • Intended only for low contamination levels
  • Must be replaced when they become stained, punctured or clogged

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask Respirator: Come as half-face, full-face or hood respirators with replaceable inserts called a cartridge or canister. Straps will secure the facepiece tightly to the head to block out unfiltered air.

  • Filters chemical gases or vapors out of the air through a canister or cartridge
    • Canisters have metal outer shells and cartridges have either plastic or cloth shells. OBBCO supplies a wide range of both, and all are color-coded depending on the amount of protection they offer. Find an explanation of colors on OSHA’s website, here.
  • Does not shield from oxygen-deficient atmospheres, very toxic substances, or substances that cannot be detected by smell or taste
  • Used for pesticide application, exposure to heavy metals, spray booths and working around chlorine

PAPR (Powered Air-Purifying Respirator): Very similar to gas and chemical respirators with the addition of a battery-powered fan to make breathing easier.

Supplied-air respirators (SARs): These generate clean air from an uncontaminated source and are loose or tight-fitting. Air is produced from a portable tank or airline hose attachment.

  • Needed when air-purifying filters (APRs) cannot provide sufficient protection from airborne concentrations of the chemical or when unknown hazards are present
  • Best when there is a short-time needed to enter and escape from the atmosphere which may be immediately dangerous to life and health.
  • Utilized in highly toxic or oxygen-deficient atmospheres.
  • Typically used by firefighters, at wastewater plants or when ammonia is in use
This article is an overview of the respiratory products available at OBBCO and not a complete guide. If you have any questions, we suggest OSHA’s bulletin on respiratory precaution, here. Get more help and ask questions in our stocked retail location or order online today.


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