Use of Respirators

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, Mar 20, 2019

Covered under OSHA Standard 1910.134 respirators are used by 5 million workers in 1.3 million workplaces across the United States and were the 4th most cited OSHA violation in 2018 with 3,118 total violations.

A respirator is a device that protects workers against environments with insufficient oxygen, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, and sprays. Respirators protect against these hazards which may cause cancer, lung diseases, or even death. OSHA Standard 1910.134(a)(2) states:

“A respirator shall be provided to each employee when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of such employee. The employer shall provide the respirators which are applicable and suitable for the purpose intended. The employer shall be responsible for the establishment and maintenance of a respiratory protection program…and shall cover each employee required by this section to use a respirator.”


Choosing the correct respirator for your job requires an assessment of your workplace operations, processes, and environments and should be conducted by experienced safety personnel or industrial hygienists.

Types of Respirators

Particulate Respirator
The simplest, least expensive, and least protective respirator available. Particulate respirators only protect against particles such as dust and do not protect against chemicals, gases, or vapors. Commonly referred to as N-95 filtering facepiece respirators or dust masks, particulate respirators are often used in hospitals to protect from infection agents.

Chemical Cartridge / Gas Mask Respirator
A type of air-purifying respirator that filters or cleans chemical gases as you breathe, these respirators include a facepiece or mask and a cartridge or canister. They are effective only if used with the correct cartridge or filter for a specific chemical or biological substance. Some cartridges protect against more than one agent, but no one cartridge will protect against all.

Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR)
Powered air-purifying respirators use a fan to draw air through the filter to the user. They are easier to breathe though than other respirators but need a fully charged battery to work properly. PAPR units use the same filters or cartridges as other air-purifying respirators, so you need to select the proper cartridge for your environment.

Self-Contained Breath Apparatus (SCBA)
Commonly used by firefighters, SCBAs use their own air tank to supply clean air, so you don’t need to worry about filters. These respirators protect against higher concentration of dangerous chemicals. Downsides of these respirators are they are very heavy (30+ pounds) and require special training on how to use and maintain them properly. Air tanks last an hour or less depending on their rating and your breathing rate.

Particulate filters are classified into nine classes which are broken down into three series: N, R, and P. Each series (N, R, and P) is available in three efficiency levels: 95%, 99%, and 99.97%. N series filters are used in environments free of oil mists. R series filters can be exposed to oil mists for one work shift, and P series filters can be exposed to oil mists for multiple work shifts. Cartridges are assigned a color designating the type of contaminant they filter.

Respirators should not be worn by those with breathing difficulties including people with lung diseases such as asthma or emphysema or elderly people. Employees who are claustrophobic may not be able to wear a full facepiece or hooded respirator and those with vision problems may have trouble seeing while wearing a mask or hood.

Cartridges, filters, and masks need to be replaced periodically. If filter cartridges are outdated, have been open to the air or are damaged, then you may not be protected. Cartridges that contain charcoal or other chemicals for filtering air need to be kept in air-tight packaging.

Following the regulations set by the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard could prevent workers from hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses annually.

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