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Are you using the right respirator at work?

Respirator protection is continually listed as one of most violated standards, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

If your line of work involves a lot of dust, smoke or other noxious fumes and gases, you’re probably privy to the necessity of a respirator. But, are you sure if you’re using the right one? Using the wrong respirator may defeat the purpose of wearing one at all.

How do I know which respirator is right for my work?

Your employers should evaluate the respiratory hazards you are exposed to. Depending on the hazard, There are two major types of respirators to choose from: air-purifying respirators and atmosphere-supplying respirators.

Air-purifying respirators

Respirators that remove contaminants from the air use particulate respirators to filter out airborne particles and purifying respirators to filter out chemicals and gases. The air passes through a filter, cartridge or canister to be purified.

These may be powered or non-powered and come in all sizes, including a quarter, half or full-face mask.

Atmosphere-supplying respirators

Instead of removing contaminants in the air, other respirators can supply clean air from another source. Airline respirators and self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) are both atmosphere-supplying respirators. Airline respirators use compressed air from a separate source, while SCBAs use their own air supply.

Respirator quality

Either type of respirator has certain requirements that must be met in order to comply with OSHA safety codes. A few examples include that the respirator must:

  • Be NIOSH certified
  • Comply with NIOSH guidelines
  • Be the correct size for the amount of coverage required (quarter, half or full-face mask)
  • Be designated an assigned protection factor (APF)
  • Meet or exceed required APF for the hazards present in the environment

Additionally, the respirator must be able to function given the expected concentration of each respiratory hazard and should not exceed use past NIOSH and OSHA exposure limits.

Risks without the right respirator

If your work environment includes any of the following, you should be using a respirator:

  • Insufficient oxygen
  • Harmful dust
  • Harmful fog/mist
  • Smoke
  • Fumes
  • Gases
  • Vapors
  • Sprays

Failure to use a respirator in these conditions could cause the following:

  • Increased breathing rate
  • Increased heart rate
  • Impaired mental capacity
  • Injuries from loss of balance/fall
  • Cancer
  • Lung impairment
  • Lung- and throat-related diseases
  • Death

If you have suffered a respiratory injury at work

If you are experiencing health concerns due to using the wrong respirator or using a respirator incorrectly, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits while you recover. Talk to an attorney about whether your health concern is an eligible condition.

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