Respiratory protective devices are critical PPEs for many workers, however misconceptions still abound regarding correct selection.
The industrial workplace finds employees having, on occasion, to work in environments that are potentially hazardous to health.
Different chemicals are used for all sorts of processes and it is the responsibility of employers to provide a safe working environment for workers.
Employees in turn are required to use the personal protection equipment (PPE) that has been supplied to protect against hazardous airborne contaminants in the workplace.
Australian Standard AS/NZS1715; ‘Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices’ provides guidance with the selection of the appropriate respirator and use of the PPE solution.
Regrettably, some workers who are exposed to workplace respiratory hazards do not necessarily use the appropriate PPE either through lack of knowledge or availability of resources.
A common misconception is that any respirator will provide respiratory protection from any or all contaminants.
The truth is a particulate filter is needed to handle particles and a specific gas filter for gases and/or vapours.
It is critical that the correct filter is used and not to expect any respirator at hand will be able to provide protection from all workplace contaminants.
Another misconception is the idea that filters have an indefinite service life.
The fact is filters have a finite service life and should be changed on a regular basis according to manufacturer’s instructions and the level of contaminants in the workplace.
Gas filters will eventually fill up with contaminants and will no longer absorb anything; contaminants will flow directly through the filter into the lungs.
Particle filters will also block-up with contaminant over time and will become increasingly harder to breathe through.
Some respirators are described as maintenance free or disposable and therefore discarded when damaged or dirty.
Others are reusable and require regular cleaning and replacement of worn or faulty parts and must be maintained in line with the manufacturer’s instructions to maximise performance.
There is also the belief that all respirators provide the same level of face fit. In fact there are many reasons why a respirator may not fit a worker’s face, including facial shape, size and contours, facial hair, strenuous work, and cosmetic makeup.
All of the above impact the creation and maintenance of an effective seal between the face and the respirator.
Without effective face-fit, inhaled breath will flow around the filter or respirator rather than through it, resulting in limited respiratory protection.
For workers with facial hair, the face seal of the mask cannot be in contact with the hair. Being clean shaven and passing a fit test with the specific mask will address the issue of fit.
Positive pressure respirator
An alternative to a standard respirator is a positive pressure respirator like 3M’s new Versaflo respirator system which can deliver respiratory protection without the need to be clean shaven.
Use of the system increases PPE versatility with added attributes of integrated head, eye, face and hearing protection.
The Versaflo Powered & Supplied Air (P&SA) respirator system delivers personal protection to workers in a diverse array of environments helping them work comfortably for long periods.
Fresh, flowing breathable air that the respirator supplies to the wearer, reduces the additional breathing effort required when compared to half and full face negative pressure respirators.
The P&SA system comprises three components:
Air delivery unit; the Versaflo Powered Air Respirator TR-300, is a lightweight, slim, easy-to-use air delivery unit for environments with particulate hazards, and the Versaflo Supplied Air Regulator V-500E with integrated silencer and low airflow warning whistle, which is suitable for high exposure situations.
Breathing tube: standard duty, self adjusting length and heavy duty
Headtop: Two headtop platforms, compatible with both Versaflo air delivery units, offer a comfortable stream of flowing air where workers need it most: the head and face. This can make hot environments more tolerable while greatly reduced visor fogging.
The two headtop platforms are the S-Series Headcovers and Hoods that can be comfortably worn by more users due to new sizing and adjustment options (users also benefit from quiet airflow, reduced fogging and wider field of view), and the rigid M-Series Faceshields and Helmets which provide integrated protection from multiple hazards.
The M-Series range is lightweight, compact, well-balanced and easy to use and maintain, with added high impact face protection.