Human lung diagram for respiratory protection awareness

Respiratory protection is essential for millions of professionals across a wide range of industries from fabrication to healthcare - those who work in environments which expose them to dangerous levels of contaminants such as dust, fogs, fumes, gases, vapors, or mists. These well-known respiratory health hazards can lead to lung impairment, diseases like cancer, or death.

Considering the importance of respiratory protection and it's impact on the lives of so many, we wanted to assemble this two-part overview of respiratory protection in the workplace. In part 1, we identify the types of respirators most commonly used in industrial environments. Part 2 will take a closer look at the regulations governing their use.

Part 1: An Overview of Respirator Types

According to OSHA, a respirator is defined as “a protective device that covers the nose and mouth or the entire face or head to guard the wearer against hazardous atmospheres.” Respirators generally fall into two main categories, air-purifying and atmosphere-supplying.

Air-Purifying Respirators

Air-purifying respirators work by passing ambient air through an air-purifying canister, cartridge, or filter as it is inhaled to remove specific air contaminants. These commonly provide protection against airborne particulates and chemical vapors. Types of air-purifying respirators include:

  1. Particulate Respirators – which capture airborne particles such as dust or fumes.
  2. Gas & Vapor Respirators – which use chemical filters to remove hazardous gases and vapors.
  3. Combination Respirators – which have both chemical and particulate filters for more comprehensive protection.

Air-purifying respiratory protection is commonly available as tight-fitting, reusable facepieces or disposable masks:

  1. Reusable Face Mask Respirators - each brand's masks are available with a line of replaceable cartridges and filters that are affixed to the facepiece to provide protection from a variety of hazards. There are primarily 2 types of masks:
    1. Full Facepieces cover most of the face starting from above the eyes and ending below the chin.
    2. Half Facepieces only covers the mouth and nose.
  2. Disposable "Dust Mask" Respirators - designed to protect from specific hazards, respirators commonly referred to as dust masks are to be thrown away after each use.


Atmosphere-Supplying Respirators

Atmosphere-supplying respirators are generally used when a higher concentration of hazardous materials are present; some models can even be used in oxygen-deficient atmospheres. These include supplied air respirators which provide clean air to the operator from an uncontaminated source, such as an air line, supply pack, or compressed air tank. 

Supplied air respiratory protection is commonly available as tight fitting facepieces or loose-fitting helmets and hoods.

  1. Loose-Fitting Respirators - hoods or helmets which completely cover the operator's head. A shroud over the operator's shoulders seals out the work site's ambient air. These respirators inherently provide fast and comprehensive respiratory protection without time-consuming fit testing.
  1. Heavy Industry Blasting & Welding Helmet Respirators surround the operator's head with uncontaminated air while providing the impact and optical protection of heavy duty helmets with face shields.
  2. Lightweight Painting & Metalworking Hood Respirators offer an economical solution to provide protection for one-time or temporary uses, such as tour groups or new hires.
  1. Reusable Face Mask Respirators - these tight-fitting masks are the same as air-purifying respirators, but instead of a filter or cartridge, the facepiece is supplied with uncontaminated air.


Powered Air-Purifying Respirators

In the absence of an uncontaminated source for supplied air respirators, a PAPR (powered air-purifying respirator) can be used. This personal protection device which can generally be worn by the operator uses a blower to force ambient air through a HEPA filter to remove contaminants before supplying the purified air to the operator’s helmet, hood, or mask.


Respiratory Protection Questions?

We're Here For You

Give us a call at (248) 545-4444 or contact us to discuss the respiratory protection compliance at the work place or job sites you are responsible for. We can answer questions, get you pointed in the right direction, arrange samples for evaluation, and work up competitive quotes. Be confident in ensuring your employees have access to the appropriate personal protective equipment that will keep them coming back to work healthy year after year.


Source Links

  1. Respiratory Protection | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
  2. Respirator Types | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
  3. Respirator Protection - Standards | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
  4. Assigned Protection Factors for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
  5. Certified Equipment List Search Form | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  6. Respirator Trusted-Source Information | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
  7. Counterfeit Respirators or Misrepresentation of NIOSH Approval | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  8. Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for Fiscal Year 2018 (Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018) | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
  9. OSHA Penalties | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - U.S. Department of Labor
  10. OSHA’s Top 10 Most-Cited Violations for Fiscal Year 2017 | Safety & Health Magazine
  11. OSHA Announces Top 10 Violations for FY 2018 | Occupational Health & Safety website