Sourced from 3M
Choosing the proper respirator is critical. No matter how well-made your respirator is, it can’t filter out hazards that it’s not designed for. Once you have conducted an exposure assessment and have the results, you’re ready to select appropriate protection for your employees. The following are four steps to aid in selecting the proper respirator.
Step One: Know your hazard type.
You’ll need to select equipment based on whether your work environment contains a particulate hazard (particles such as hazardous dusts or fibers), a gas or vapor hazard (such as solvent vapors or chlorine gas), or both types of hazards.
Generally, you protect against particulate hazards with a filter and gas and vapors with a cartridge. If both types of hazards are present, combination cartridges are an option that can filter out both particles and gas or vapors.
Step Two: Find out if your workers need respiratory protection.
An exposure assessment should yield employee exposure levels for the substances tested. The results are typically measured in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3), commonly averaged over an eight-hour work shift.
Compare your exposure levels to the occupational exposure limit (OEL) or permissible exposure limit (PEL) set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to determine if action is required by law. You can often use values set by other groups, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) – if those values are lower than the OEL. In any event, make sure both your measured concentrations and the levels to which you are comparing them (such as the OEL) use the same units of measure. For instance, both could be expressed in ppm for an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Measurements may also be in the form of 15-minute short-term exposure limits (STEL) or a ceiling limit (C), which is the absolute limit that a worker should never exceed at any time.
If your employee exposure levels are below the OEL, then respirators aren’t legally required, though you may still want to offer respirators for voluntary use. If your levels are above the limit, look to reduce exposures through engineering or administrative controls. If putting those controls into place is not feasible, choose respiratory protection that helps reduce exposure to an acceptable level for workers.
Step Three: Determine the level of protection needed.
The only respirators OSHA allows for use in the workplace are those approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). All NIOSH-approved respirators have an assigned protection factor (APF), which can range from 10 to 10,000.
The APF is the workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when the employer implements a continuing, effective respiratory protection program as specified by 29 CFR 1910.134. For instance, an APF of 10 means the respirator can protect against exposure levels up to 10 times the PEL for that hazard.
To see what level of APF your workplace needs, divide your exposure levels by the exposure limit. (This is called the “hazard ratio.”) For instance: Exposure level: 500 ppm ÷ OEL or PEL: 50 ppm = APF: 10
Step Four: Choose a respirator type.
OSHA lists APFs for different types of respirators. For example, half-mask respirators with cartridges and filters have an APF of 10. Once you know your required APF, you can narrow your choices to those respirators that can reduce exposure below the OEL.
Besides choosing equipment appropriate for your workplace’s types and levels of hazards, you must also consider compatibility with other required protective equipment, such as safety glasses and hard hats. For example, glasses and half-face respirators may compete for space on the same part of the face — the bridge of the nose — so it’s vital to find equipment that fits together without causing leakage around the respirator edges or loss of eye protection.
Comfort and ability to do the job are also important considerations; if the work is particularly strenuous, try to select respirators that are as lightweight and streamlined as possible. And keep in mind that people’s faces come in all shapes and sizes; you may need to select from various models and sizes to find properly fitting respirators for all workers who need one.
Ten Considerations When Selecting Respiratory Protection
When choosing respiratory protection in the United States, there is much to consider. Are respirators required by your employer and/or the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)? Has the respirator been certified by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH)? But even once you select the appropriate respiratory protection given your job and application, another vital consideration is achieving the proper fit.
Respiratory protection should be used in accordance with all the requirements in U.S. OSHA’s respiratory protection program (29 CFR 1910.134) and the manufacturer’s user instructions. Here are ten things to consider when selecting respiratory protection for your workers.
- If your employer has a respiratory protection program that requires fit-testing, ensure you are properly fit-tested every time you wear a new type or model of respirator. This is especially applicable for tight-fitting respirators, which include filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) and reusable (elastomeric) respiratory (RR) protection. Even with the highest filtration efficiency available, if a respirator doesn’t fit, contaminated air can pass around the respirator and into the wearer’s airway.
- Select respiratory protection products from a reputable manufacturer of filtering facepiece respirators that prioritizes fit and understands that faces come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
- Review all the features and benefits available; Nose clips, straps, nose foam, etc. Inspect each respirator before use – are the components in good condition? Are you using them correctly?
- Always carefully read and follow the User Instructions for model-specific user seal check directions.
- Switching respirator models can be challenging as there are many choices, so seek out respiratory protection specialists who can help you understand the options available and what will help provide the right fit, given the hazards you may face.
- For wearers, “fit” typically means a proper seal and comfort. For tight-fitting respirators like FFRs and elastomerics (RR) – “fit” focuses on the ability to seal to each wearer’s face. Fit-testing, practicing donning/doffing, and performing seal checks are vital to wearing respirators properly.
- Understanding fit is important, but also consider what you need to do to ensure you can obtain a good fit and seal. Make sure you are clean-shaven if using FFRs or RRs.
- User seal checks are an important way for the respirator wearer to check the seal at any time and determine what adjustments may be needed.
- For all respirators, including loose-fitting respirators such as many powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) and supplied air (SA) respirators, the fit may impact the perception of comfort. A respirator that is not the appropriate size may be uncomfortable over time. Poor-fitting respirators may cause pressure points or be cumbersome. Fit is individual – no face is the same, so a respirator model fits different people differently. Take the time to practice wearing your respirator to ensure it fits properly, is comfortable, and that you can wear it for the full duration required, given the demands of your job.
- Make sure your respirator is stored in a clean place. Always inspect the respirator before you put it on to ensure it is not damaged, deteriorated, or past its shelf life before you use it.
Fit is core to respiratory protection. What good is a new respirator model if you cannot achieve a proper seal and it is not comfortable for the full length of use? Consider all of these things every time you are looking to switch to a new model or are evaluating if you want to continue with the model you currently use.
3M Respirator Cartridge Selection
There are three types of 3M™ Filters & Cartridges:
Particulate Filters: Filters only aerosols (e.g., dust, mists, fumes, smoke, mold, bacteria, etc.). Some filters also have nuisance-level gas and vapor capabilities.
Gas & Vapor Cartridges: Filters only gases and vapors. There are different kinds of cartridges for different types of gases and vapors.
Combination Cartridge/Filters: Filters particles, gases, and vapors. Different combination particulate/cartridge filters are used depending on the gas or vapor present in the air.
Frequently Asked Questions about 3M™ Cartridges
What is the shelf life of 3M™ Cartridges?
Provided they are stored unopened in the original packaging and away from direct sunlight, humidity, and sources of high temperature, cartridges will last five years from the manufacture date. See the “use by” date on the packaging.
How should I store my 3M™ Respirator Cartridges and Filters?
Prior to first use and when not in use, your 3M™ Respirator, Cartridges, and Filters should be kept clean, cool, dry, and away from contaminated atmospheres to avoid deterioration. Store cartridges in a sealed container or bag.
Why do I need to use a 3M™ Particulate Filter with my 3M™ Gas & Vapor Cartridges for some applications?
The particulate filter helps remove tiny droplets or particles in the air (e.g., mists from spray painting). The gas and vapor cartridges do not help filter these particles.
ABATIX offers a comprehensive selection of 3M respirators and cartridges. You can always rely on our team of knowledgeable reps to help you make the most informed decisions. Contact your local ABATIX rep today.