OSHA reports that some 5 million American workers must wear respirators on the job. These devices are needed when working in environments that have insufficient oxygen, smoke, dust, gas and other contaminants that could significantly impair breathing, and cause chronic ailments and cancer. Thus, respirators constitute a key piece of equipment in hazardous situations.
Respirators work by filtering particles from the air, chemically cleaning the air or supplying clean air from an outside source. When selecting respirators, one must consider the chemical and physical properties of the contaminant, the toxicity and concentration of the hazardous material, and the amount of oxygen present. Additionally, some other factors to observe include nature and extent of the hazard, area to be covered, work rate, work requirements and conditions, and mobility.
Anyone required to wear a respirator at Texas Tech must follow OP 60.05 (http://www.depts.ttu.edu/opmanual/OP60.05.pdf). This OP explains the process to get fitted with a respirator.
Types of respirators
- Particulate respirators—the least expensive and least protective of the respirator types available. These respirators are intended only for low hazard levels as they filter out only dust, fumes and mists; they do not protect against chemicals, gases or vapors.
- Generally, particulate respirators are disposable dust masks or respirators with disposable filters.
- Must be replaced when they become discolored, damaged or clogged.
- Examples include filtering face piece or elastomeric respirator.
- Chemical cartridge/gas mask respirator—also known as “air-purifying respirators” because they filter or clean chemical gases out of the air as the wearer breathes. This device consists of a face piece or mask as well as a cartridge or canister.
- Chemical cartridge/gas mask respirator effective only if used with the correct cartridge (filter) for a particular biological or chemical substance. There are cartridges available that guard against more than one hazard, but there is no “all-purpose” cartridge that filters all contaminants, so it is essential to know what hazards you will face.
- Chemical cartridges or canisters are replaceable. Also, they are color-coded to help in selecting the right one.
- It may be necessary to have more than one cartridge on hand to protect against multiple contaminants.
- Powered air-purifying respirator—uses a fan to direct air through its filter to the wearer. Although they are easier to breathe through, they require a fully charged battery to operate properly.
- Powered air-purifying respirators use the same type of cartridges as other air-purifying respirators.
- Self-contained breathing apparatus—commonly used by firefighters. The devices draw from their own tank to supply clean air. Also, they can be used when dealing with higher concentrations of dangerous chemicals.
- Self-contained breathing apparatuses provide clean air from a portable tank—so no need to use filters.
- Are heavy (weighing 30 pounds or heavier) and require training on how to operate them.
- Typically, the air tanks last an hour or less, depending on their rating and the wearer’s breathing rate.
For more information
Learn more about respirators by reading OSHA’s bulletin on general respiratory protection guidance (https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/respiratory_protection_bulletin_2011.html) as well as its overview of respiratory protection (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/respiratoryprotection/guidance.html).
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This information is not exhaustive and should not be construed as containing all the necessary compliance, safety, or warning information available. Please make sure you consult with EH&S or appropriate supervisors for all safety information and procedures.