There are many different types of respirators, and in the wake of the global pandemic involving COVID-19, it is important to know how each of them works, and what they protect against. For instance, if you are working in an area with oily particulate matter, an n95-designated mask will not protect you. As well, most disposable respirators are not acceptable for work where organic vapours are present, such as H2S exposures in oilfield operations.
Respirators are specially designed facemasks, that either cover the nose and mouth or the entire face. Each of them has different filtering capabilities, and they are used in many applications to protect human life.
The three most common types of respirators are disposable, reusable, and air-supplied.
Disposable respirators are what most people think of when they think of respirators and are typically made to filter particulate matter. There are several certifications that this type of mask can carry, including n95 and p95. Masks with an n95 designation are not suitable for environments where oily particles are present, whereas p95, and r95, masks are.
Mask Fit Testing is Required For Reusable and Air-Supplied
Reusable face masks are used in many settings as well, including industrial paint application and carpentry. They differ from disposable masks in that they are made with more resistant and higher-quality materials, like nylon straps and soft plastic shells. They often require mask fit testing to make sure the face seal is complete, but that is common with all respirators listed here.
Furthermore, the filter portion of reusable masks is typically removable which means different filters can be applied for different situations. Commonly, a charcoal filter cartridge is combined with a fabric “pre-filter” to ensure adequate protection from particulate and chemical exposure. Charcoal filters are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for a variety of uses, including formaldehyde and organic vapour protection.
Finally, air-supplied respirators are expensive but reliable pieces of respiratory equipment. Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR) use a fan to deliver filtered air to the individual which is usually mounted on their waist. Conversely, supplied-air systems are attached to an air compressor, or more commonly, a compressed air bottle.
These devices limit a persons’ exposure to the utmost by removing the need to gather air from their immediate surroundings. The filtering process is completed before the air enters the line to the individual which means different types of filters are used, compared to reusable respirators. In most circumstances, this type of respirator requires a full-face connection in order to function properly, which means mask fit testing of a quantitative nature will be required.
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