The information below contains basic information, tools, and recommendations for scenarios in which respiratory protection may be required and outlines the methods for proper selection:
It is important to note that typically, respirators are used to reduce a worker’s exposure below an established regulatory occupational exposure limit (OEL), and only in instances where other controls (i.e. ventilation) are not effective or feasible. Respirators may be worn to provide relief from nuisance odors, particles, or fibers. The examples below demonstrates an appropriate respirator selection process, as well as when to select specific respirator types.
Respirator Fit and Use
To be protective, respirators must form a tight fitting seal around the wearer’s face, particularly around the mouth and noise. As respirators are available in a variety of sizes, employees required to wear respirators should be appropriately fitted through a fit testing program (see the Respiratory Protection Program section below) to ensure that they are provided with respiratory protection that fits properly and offers the desired level of protection.
Use of Facemasks
Facemasks are a specific type of PPE that are designed to prevent the spread of large particles typically generated by the wearer (e.g. spit, mucous) within the work environment. Facemasks are not designed or certified to prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants or gases (e.g. chemicals).
Facemasks are also not designed to seal against the face and cannot be fit tested. Therefore, there is no Assigned Protection Factor (APF) for facemasks. During inhalation, much of the air passes through gaps between the face and the mask. The mask material is also not designed to capture small particles.
These surgical type of facemasks may be useful in certain environments to prevent irritation from large fibers and particles, but should NEVER be used to protect against exposures to chemicals or dusts above applicable permissible exposure limits (PEL).
Respiratory Protection Program
If respiratory protection is required, it is important to establish a written Respiratory Protection Program that includes procedures for the following:
- Selection of appropriate respirators
- Fit testing
- Employee training training
- Proper use (inspection, cleaning, maintenance, and storage)
- Medical evaluations