Clean air can easily be taken for granted, and when working in areas with hazardous particles or gasses, using the proper respirator to assist with breathing is literally a life or death matter. Choosing a respirator can be a complicated process especially if you aren’t armed with the proper information about the hazards you are trying to protect against.
Before trying to select a respirator for the job at hand, be sure you have identified the respiratory hazard, evaluated the hazard thoroughly, and have considered whether engineering or substitution controls are possible.
Ask the following questions about your workplace to get the selection process started.
- What activities will the worker be doing while wearing the respirator (e.g., strenuous work)?
- What are the characteristics of the operation or the process (e.g., hot temperature, confined space)?
- Is it to be used in firefighting or emergencies?
- How long will the worker need to wear the respirator?
- Does the selected respirator fit the worker properly?
- Where is the nearest safe area that has clean air?
- Is it to be used in oxygen-deficient atmospheres (less than 18% oxygen in air; some jurisdictions say below 19.5%)?
- What is the nature of the hazard (chemical properties, concentration in the air, warning properties)?
- Is there more than one contaminant (i.e. a mixture or more than one chemical is present)?
- What are the health effects of the airborne contaminant (carcinogenic, potentially lethal, irritating to eyes, absorbed through the skin)?
- Is the airborne contaminant a gas, vapor or particulate (mist, dust or fume)?
- Are the airborne levels below or above the exposure limit, or are they above levels that could be immediately dangerous to life or health?
Refer to the SDS for guidance on requirements of particular respiratory hazards around your facility if more hazard information is needed. When you are ready to begin making your respirator decision visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/RespSource.html for additional help and information on NIOSH approved respirators.