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Respirator Selection

Control Respiratory Hazards

Respiratory hazards can include airborne contaminants such as dusts, mists, fumes, and gases, or oxygen-deficient atmospheres. Well designed and maintained engineering controls are the preferred methods of controlling worker exposure to hazardous contaminants in the air. These control methods include:

Administrative controls may be used in addition to engineering controls. Administrative controls limit workers' exposures by scheduling reduced work times in contaminant areas or by implementing other such work rules. These control measures have many limitations because the hazard is not removed. Administrative controls are not generally favoured because they can be difficult to implement, maintain and are not reliable.

Workers should use respirators for protection from contaminants in the air only if other hazard control methods are not practical or possible under the circumstances. Respirators should not be the first choice for respiratory protection in workplaces. They should only be used:

Workers with beards, long sideburns, or even a two-day stubble may not wear respirators because the hair breaks the seal between the skin and the respirator mask. Wearing eyeglasses would also break the respirator seal. This means that the respirator mask will "leak" and will not provide the needed respiratory protection. Also, if a worker has facial scars or an acne problem, the facial skin may not be able to form a good seal with a respirator mask.

Workers must be fit tested prior to using respirators.  Contact Ian Fraser at the Safety Office Ext. 36268.


Types of Respirators

The two main types are air-purifying respirators (APRs) and supplied-air respirators (SARs).

Air-purifying respirators can remove contaminants in the air that you breathe by filtering out particulates (e.g., dusts, metal fumes, mists, etc.). Other APRs purify air by adsorbing gases or vapours on a sorbent (adsorbing material) in a cartridge or canister. They are tight-fitting and are available in several forms:

Respirators with a full face piece also protect the eyes from exposure to irritating chemicals.

Supplied-air respirators (SARs) supply clean air from a compressed air tank or through an air line. This air is not from the work room area. The air supplied in tanks or from compressors must meet certain standards for purity and moisture content (e.g., CSA Standard Z180.1-M85: Compressed Breathing Air and Systems).

Supplied-air respirators may have either tight-fitting or loose-fitting respiratory inlets. Respirators with tight-fitting respiratory inlets have half or full face pieces. Types with loose-fitting respiratory inlets can be hoods or helmets that cover the head and neck, or loose-fitting face pieces with rubber or fabric side shields. These are supplied with air through airlines.

Examples of these classes of respirators include:

Air-purifying respirators (APRs):

There are some combinations of airline respirators and SCBAs that allow workers to work for extended periods in oxygen-deficient areas or where there are airborne toxic contaminants. The auxiliary or backup SCBA source allows the worker to escape with an emergency source of air if the airline source fails.

There are also combination air-purifying and atmosphere supplying respirators. These will offer worker protection if the supplied-air system fails, if the appropriate air-purifier units are selected. These cannot be used in oxygen-deficient areas or where the air concentration of a contaminant exceeds the IDLH level (i.e., immediately dangerous to life or health).


Respirator Selection

Choosing a respirator is a complicated matter. Experienced safety professionals or occupational hygienists, who are familiar with the actual workplace environment, are the staff who should select the proper respirator. They can choose a suitable respirator only after they have evaluated all relevant factors. This includes considering the limitations of each class of respirator.

Before the proper respirator can be selected for a job, be sure you have already:

There are too many types of situations to cover them all fully here. However, the following questions represent part of "decision logic" that a safety professional or occupational hygienist can use when selecting a respirator: