How to save your breath
10 May, 2021 by
How to save your breath

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Respirators explained

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is used to protect against occupational hazards and adverse health effects. RPE or Respiratory Protection Equipment is a type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and is intended to protect the wearer from inhalation of hazardous substances in the air in the workplace. According to Article 16, Convention on Safety and Health at Work, 1981 (No. 155)

1. Workers must ensure that, as far as reasonably practicable, the workplaces, machinery, equipment and processes under their control are safe and free from any risk of healing.

2. Workers must ensure that, as far as reasonably possible, the chemical, physical and biological substances and agents under their control do not present a health hazard when appropriate protective measures are taken.

3. The employees are obliged, if necessary, to provide adequate protective clothing and protective equipment to prevent, as far as reasonably possible, the risk of accidents or adverse health effects. It is crucial to emphasize that PPE is considered a last resort, in the sense that all possible other measures have been taken to eliminate the relevant hazard at work, but the risk still exists. The Hierarchy of Controls describes all the necessary steps. The image below shows the hierarchy of controls: As the International Labor Organization has stated, if PPE is still required after implementing other controls (and there will be circumstances when it is, e.g. head protection in most construction sites), the employer must provide this to his employees free of charge. Safety helmets, gloves, goggles, safety shoes, harnesses, earmuffs and respiratory protection equipment are just some of the personal protective equipment available.

Respiratory protection equipment (RPE) is one of the most widely used protective equipment and is used for:

* Performing tasks with a risk of air pollution from dust, gas, vapour, smoke and mist. Such tasks may include welding stainless steel or working with products containing volatile solvents. 
* Working in areas where there is a risk of oxygen deficiency, such as tanks. 

Classification of respiratory protective equipment

Respirators can be classified according to the type of protection provided to the wearer. The two main types of equipment are: In our article we will focus on the respirators. The filtering respirators (also known as non-powered respirators) and powered air-purifying respirators filter the atmospheric air we breathe. However, respirators should not be used in work areas where oxygen levels are or may be low. In the case of oxygen deprivation atmospheres, a breathing apparatus is required.

Filtering Respirators

CAUTION: The FFRs should not be confused with the surgical masks. The Filtering Facepiece Masks (FFRs) protect the wearer from particulate matter while performing tasks involving contaminants in the airstream. They are disposable, but not necessarily for single use. Some of them can be used multiple times. However, keep in mind that FFRs are not intended for extensive use. FFRs seal the nose and mouth area tightly and filter the air the wearer breathes. As the wearer inhales through the mask, the contaminants are collected on the filter. FFRs can also be supplied with a valve that aims to reduce breathing resistance. Please note that FFRs cannot provide protection against hazardous vapors and gases. The respirators can be classified by filter efficiency and resistance to oil.

In Europe the FFRs also use the FFP classification based on filter efficiency:

Minimum 78% protection against particles larger than 75 nanometers. These FFRs are common in the construction industry.
FFP2: Minimum 92% protection against particles larger than 75 nanometers. These FFRs are common in shipping.
FFP3: Minimum 98% protection against particles larger than 75 nanometers. These FFRs are common in the chemical industry.

A sub-subcategory of FFRs are active carbon dust masks that protect against ozone during industrial processes. The most important factor for the effectiveness of the FFRs is the correct fit. The following explains how to properly fit a ventilator.

Full/Half Face Filter Respirators

Full/Half Face Filter Masks are reusable devices that seal the wearer's nasal mouth area (half face or quarter face respirators) or the entire face (full face respirators). This type of gas mask is usually made of materials such as rubber/silicon and comes with replaceable filters. Depending on the connected filter, it can protect against contaminants, vapors and/or gases. These respirators are classified according to the filter they use.

Depending on the lifetime of contaminants / particulate filters, this filter category can be classified as:

*NR = Not reusable
* R = Reusable

Powered Air Purifying Respirators

Also known as PAPRs, the powered air-purifying respirators are battery-operated respirators that filter the air from particulates, vapors and gases. In the PAPRs, a blower passes the atmospheric air through the filters (as PAPR's only High Efficiency Filters are available) where all contaminants are removed and the purified air is fed through the breathing tube to the facepiece. The facepiece can come in the form of a tight half/full facepiece or a looser fit hood/helmet. The PAPRs are used when a non-powered respirator cannot be used or when working with high-risk aerosol generating procedures. Best Practices for Respirators Respirators, like all PPE, must be properly selected, used and maintained to provide maximum protection.

When choosing a respirator, always keep in mind the nature of the tasks to be performed and the user's facial features that could affect the efficiency of the equipment (goggles/facial hair, etc.). Once the correct type of respirator has been selected, a fitting test will be performed to ensure a better fit on the wearer's face. This step is extremely critical as the performance and protection provided depends on the tight seal of the wearer's face. Please note that, as with any PPE, the use of respirators must meet difficulties in performing the wearer's duties. In the event that the gas mask causes irritation or other nuisance, the wearer must report this to the employer and a suitable solution must be found. Proper disinfection, through research (before and after use) and safe storage are the next crucial steps that ensure high efficiency and protection against the respirator.

The diagram below explains the examination of the RPE before use in 4 easy steps. Last but not least, it is critical to emphasize that all RPEs presented to provide the maximum level of protection and effectiveness require that workers/users be trained accordingly and follow all manufacturer's recommended practices. 

This article was created in collaboration with TechnoSafety:

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