HOW TO SAVE YOUR BREATH

RESPIRATORS EXPLAINED

Techno-Experts

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is used to protect from occupational hazards and adverse health impact. RPE or Respiratory Protection Equipment is a type of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and is aiming to protect the wearer from inhalation of hazardous substances in the workplace air.

According to Art.16, Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) 

1. Employers shall be required to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the workplaces, machinery, equipment and processes under their control are safe and without risk to health.
2. Employers shall be required to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the chemical, physical and biological substances and agents under their control are without risk to health when the appropriate measures of protection are taken.
3. Employers shall be required to provide, where necessary, adequate protective clothing and protective equipment to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, risk of accidents or of adverse effects on health.

It is crucial to underline that PPE is considered to be a last resort option, by the meaning that every possible other action has been taken to eliminate the relevant hazard at work, however the risk still exists. On the Hierarchy of Controls, all the necessary steps are described.

On the graphic below you can see the Hierarchy of Controls: 

Hierarchy of Controls

As stated by the International Labor Organization, if PPE is still needed after implementing other controls (and there will be circumstances when it is, e.g. head protection on most construction sites), employer must provide this for their workers free of charge.

Safety helmets, gloves, goggles, safety footwear, harnesses, ear defenders and respiratory protection equipment are only some of the available personal protection equipment. 

Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) is one of the most frequently used protection equipment and is used for:

  • Performing Tasks with risk of air-contamination from dust, gas, vapor, fume and mist. Such tasks can be stainless steel welding or working with products containing volatile solvents.
  • Working in areas where there is risk of oxygen deficiency such as tanks.  


Respiratory Protection Equipment Classification

Respiratory Protection Equipment can be classified based on the type of protection provided to the wearer. 

The two main types of the equipment are:

RPE classification

In our article we will focus on the Respirators. The filtering respirators (also known as non-powered respirators) and powered air-purifying respirators are filtering the atmospheric air we breathe. However, Respirators must not be used in working areas where the oxygen levels are or may be low. In case of oxygen deficient atmospheres, a breathing apparatus is required.

Filtering Respirators

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ATTENTION: The FFRs should not be confused with the surgical masks. 

The Filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) are protecting the wearer from particles while performing tasks with contaminants in the airstream. They are disposable, but not necessarily of single use. Some of them can be used multiple times. However keep in mind that FFRs are not intended for extensive use. 

FFRs tightly seal the nasal and mouth area and filter the air the wearer inhales. As the wearer inhales through the mask, the contaminants are collected on the filter . FFRs may also come with a valve which aims to reduce the breathing resistance. Keep in mind that FFRs cannot provide protection against hazardous vapors and gases. 

The respirators can be classified by filtering efficiency and resistance to oil. 

Respirator Classification US Standards

In Europe, for the FFRs is also used the FFP classification based on the filtering efficiency:

  • FFP1: Minimum 78 protection against particles bigger than 75 nanometer. These FFRs are common in the building industry.
  • FFP2: Minimum 92% protection against particles bigger than 75 nanometer. These FFRs are common in the shipping industry.
  • FFP3: Minimum 98 protection against particles bigger than 75 nanometer. These FFRs are common in the chemical industry.

A particular subcategory of FFRs are the active carbon dust masks that protect from ozone during industrial processes.

The most important factor for the FFRs efficiency is the proper fit. Below is explained how is the proper way of a respirator fitting

How to wear a correctly a face mask / respirator


Full/Half Face Filter Respirators

Full/Half Face Filter Respirators


Full/Half face Filter respirators are reusable devices that seal either the nasal-mouth area of the wearer (half face or quarter face respirators) or the whole face (full face respirators). This form of respirators is usually made of materials such as rubber/silicon and comes with replaceable filters. Depends on the attached filter can protect from contaminants, vapors and/or gases. 

These respirators are classified based on the filter they use

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Depends contaminants/particles filter life, this filter category can be classified as:

  • NR= Non Reusables
  • R= Reusables


Powered Air-Purifying Respirators

Known also as PAPRs, the powered air-purifying respirators are battery operated devices that filter the air from particles, vapors and gases.

In the PAPRs a blower passes the atmospheric air through the filters ( for PAPRs only High Efficiency Filters are available) where all the contaminants are removed and through the breathing tube the purified air is supplied to the facepiece. The face piece could come either in the form of a tight half/full face piece or a hood/helmet with looser fitting.

The PAPRs are used when a non-powered respirator is not able to be used or when working with high-risk aerosol-generating procedures.


Respirators Best Practices 

The respirators, just like any other PPE, must be chosen, used and maintained properly in order to provide maximum protection.

When choosing a respirator have always in mind what is the nature of the tasks that has to be performed and facial characteristics of the user that could influence the efficiency of the equipment ( glasses/ facial hair etc.)

After the right type of respirator is chosen, a fitting-test has to be performed to ensure proper fitting on the wearer's face. This step is extremely crucial since the performance and the provided protection depends on the tight sealing of the wearer’s face.

Keep in mind that just like with any PPE, the use of respirators should adhere to difficulties in the performance of the tasks of the wearer. In case the respirator creates irritation or any other nuisance, the wearer must report it to the employer and an well-fitted solution must be encountered.

Proper disinfection, thorough examination (before and after use) and safe storing are the next crucial steps that ensure high efficiency and protection from the respirator. 

On the below diagram, the examination of the RPE before usage is explained in 4 simple steps.


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Last but not least, it is crucial to underline that all the RPEs presented in order to provide the maximum level of protection and effectiveness, require the employees/users to be trained accordingly and follow all manufacturer recommended practices.


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