Respiratory Protection – What does it all mean?

Blog post by Alex Bakken

Did you know that the colors on your respirator mean something?

Many times I have walked around sites and noticed that workers are wearing the wrong filters/cartridges for the respiratory hazards identified for the task being done.

Often times, when purchasing doesn’t know what cartridge to purchase, they move to Multigas/olive as the “protect all”, but this can be costly to the employer, and cumbersome for the employee, as more fillers in the cartridge to protect from more respiratory hazards can often times add more weight for the wearer.

Did you know that the CSA standard for respiratory selection and protection has changed to no longer use “change when taste or odor cues are detected or breathing becomes difficult due to clogging”, and now identifies to “use proper change-out schedules”.

Why has this changed? If you are tasting or smelling the product you are trying to keep workers from being exposed to, you are exposing them. This old way of doing things is no longer sufficient as adequate protection is not being secured for the workers.

A qualified hygienist, or the manufacturer of the respiratory protection can aid in providing proper change out schedules to ensure worker protection.

Exposure Limits and Protection

Next, do you know what those cartridges you are using have been tested for? And when you can use them? Maybe your workers need to be using Air Supplied respiratory protection?

A look at the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards can help you identify what protection you should be supplying to your workers.

A brief look at the (M)SDS sheet, often times, will have the statement “use adequate respiratory protection” but, have you ever noticed how it doesn’t tell you what type? What color? If you need supplied air? The statements in (M)SDS can often be generic as a “cover all” statement to protect the manufacturer, and it is left to the employer to make the proper selection of respiratory equipment… but are you really protecting your workers?

If you look at your (M)SDS sheet and look at the list of chemicals within the compound being used, you can see the list of ingredients. By cross referencing these with the NIOSH Pocket Guide, you can see if NIOSH has tested these chemicals with the cartridges available on the market.

Respirator recommendations will be towards the bottom of the page.

For an example, here is Styrene, you will see at the bottom, at certain levels of exposure, they recommend an Organic Vapour (OV) cartridge.

Now let’s look at Ethylenediamine, sometimes added into coatings that are sprayed. You will see at the bottom that this product requires air purifying respiratory protection.

How can you tell what the exposure is? How do I know if there is 500ppm or how many ppm there are at all in the atmosphere outside of the respirator? A hygienist needs to do air sampling to ensure that the respiratory protection selected is adequate.

There are other ways of testing as well, such as Draager tubes, but this testing should be done by a qualified Health and Safety Specialist, or a qualified Hygienist.

It is extremely important to understand the chemical products that are being worked with at your facility and knowing what type of respiratory protection to supply your workers. Occupational Diseases are WCB reportable and 100% preventable with proper respiratory protection.

Many products cause mesothelioma, pneumoconiosis, cancer, COPD, and many more respiratory illnesses.

Fit Testing

Fit testing is another main portion of proper respiratory selection. There are 2 types:

  • Qualitative – using irritant smoke, or irritant taste products. Spraying these into a hood or around the workers respirator while wearing, the tester waits for irritant cues such as taste or coughing, to see if the mask has any leaks.
  • Quantitative – the worker is attached to a machine, like a Port-a-Count, where the concentration of contaminants is measured on the inside and outside of the mask, to assign a fit factor.

Many times, companies move to qualitative fit testing, as it is fast, and relatively inexpensive; but, did you know that you cannot use this type of testing unless you can guarantee the protection factor of 10 times the contaminated area? And you cannot guarantee the 10xprotection factor without having a hygienist come and take air samples.

Also, error on behalf of the tester can render these tests ineffective and often times, the wrong size mask is issued.

Quantitative fit testing should always be used, as it offers a higher protection factor, and leaves no room for error when testing. The worker passes, or fails, there is no in between.

If you do not know what type of respiratory protection you may require, or want more information, or need quantitative fit testing done, give one of the professionals at All-Safe a call, we would be more than happy to help ensure the protection of your workers and your company.

Contact us for assistance with your respiratory protection program and any questions you may have.