Respiratory Protection

Types of respirators

Respirators keep contaminants in the air from entering your body as you breathe. They work either by:

  • supplying clean air to you through a hose (supplied-air or airline respirator) or
  • filtering out contaminants from the air in the room (air-purifying cartridge respirator).

Each type of respirator has limitations and can only be worn under certain conditions.

You need to understand the limitations of the respirator you are wearing to ensure it is properly protecting you.

Supplied Air Respirator (SAR)

Supplied-air respirators (SARs)

SARs are generally considered to be more protective than air-purifying respirators as long as they are well-maintained and worn properly. A supplied-air respirator is the preferred respirator for use when spray painting. The head or face pieces for supplied-air respirators come in several types including half or full face masks, hoods, and loose fitting face pieces.

Air Purifying Respirator

Air-purifying respirators (APRs)

An APR will filter out the dust particles, solvents and isocyanates from the air you breathe as long as you are wearing it properly and have the right cartridges attached. Solvents are filtered out with organic vapor cartridges and dusts are filtered out by prefilters or cartridges containing HEPA filters.

If you are using an air-purifying respirator for painting, you should use an organic vapor cartridge with a dust prefilter. Cartridges and filters should be changed out regularly, at least once per week, and as soon as you notice odors or have difficulty drawing air through the respirator.

Organic Vapor Cartridge

Organic vapor cartridges filter out solvents.

Use organic vapor cartridges and prefilters if spray painting with a half face respirator.

HEPA Filter
HEPA filters remove particles from the air you breathe.
Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR)

Powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs)

One type of APR is a PAPR. The room air is filtered with cartridges, but a pack that you wear on your back pumps the filtered air into your hood or face mask. You can wear a loose-fitting hood with a PAPR and it is more protective if you have any facial hair. You can also move around, inside and outside of the booth, to mix paint and clean the paint gun, without removing your resirator. Use the same cartridges as above.

Filtering Dust Mask

Filtering facepiece (dust mask)

A dust mask is a type of air-purifying respirator which is good for removing particles from the air you breathe. However, it will not fit your face as tightly as a half mask facepiece and cannot be fit tested to be sure it is protecting you. A mask labeled N95 (or P95) will remove 95% of the particles.... N100 also called HEPA will remove 99.99% of the particles....

Fit testing and medical evaluation

To work properly, respirators that are tight fitting to the face, such as a half-mask respirator, must be fitted to your face. Just as one pair of shoes does not fit all feet, a single respirator size and type will not fit all faces. If your respirator does not fit properly, it can leak and you will breathe contaminated air. A respirator fit test will make sure your respirator fits properly and is protecting you. Beards and other facial hair can interfere with a respirator’s facial seal. For this reason, you should only wear respirators that are tight fitting to the face if you are clean shaven.

Some types of respirators place a strain on your respiratory system which can affect your health if you are susceptible. Before wearing a respirator, you will be required to complete a medical questionnaire. This questionnaire will help a health professional to determine if you may be at risk while wearing the respirator. Alternative respirators can be selected if you are found to be at risk.

How to inspect and put on a half-mask or dust mask respirator

Before putting on any respirator you should review and be familiar with the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct use of the respirator. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when wearing a respirator. First, you will want to inspect it to be sure that all of the parts are in good condition. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for an inspection list.

Don’t put on a respirator that is dirty or has broken or missing parts! Get broken items repaired or replaced immediately.

To put on a half-mask respirator:

  1. Place the respirator under your chin with the nosepiece facing up.
  2. Place the top strap on the top of your head.
  3. Attach the bottom straps behind your neck.
  4. Adjust the facepiece and straps for a comfortable fit.
  5. Tighten the straps by pulling on the ends. Loosen them by pushing on the buckle tab.

To put on a filtering face piece or dust mask:

  1. Hold the respirator in your hands with the nosepiece toward your fingertips.
  2. Position the mask over your mouth and nose.
  3. Pull the top strap over your head so that it rests above your ears.
  4. Pull the bottom strap over your head so it rests below your ears around your neck.
  5. If the respirator has a metal nosepiece tab, use fingertips of both hands to mold it to your nose.
  6. Adjust the facepiece and straps until you have a comfortable fit.

User seal checks for half-mask respirators

When putting on a tight fitting respirator, such as a half-mask respirator, you should make sure you have a good facial seal with a negative and positive pressure check.

To perform a negative pressure check:

  1. Place the palms of your hands over the openings of the cartridges.
  2. Inhale gently so that the facepiece collapses slightly.
  3. Hold your breath for 10 seconds.
  4. If the facepiece remains in its slightly collapsed condition, and no inward leak of air is detected, the fit of the respirator is considered satisfactory.
  5. If there is any leakage, adjust the facepiece to improve the seal and retest the fit.

To perform a positive pressure check:

  1. Place your hand over the exhaust valve.
  2. Exhale gently into the facepiece.
  3. The face fit is considered satisfactory if a slight positive pressure can be built up inside the facepiece without any evidence of outward leakage of air at the seal.
  4. If there is any leakage, adjust the facepiece to improve the seal and retest the fit.

Now you are ready to use the respirator and perform your task with it. If you have to take off your mask during a task, make sure you put it back on properly and do the seal checks again.

Cleaning and storing reusable respirators

It is very important to properly clean and sanitize your respirator. A dirty respirator places dust, isocyanates and other solvents in contact with your skin. The manufacturer’s instructions should provide a cleaning and sanitizing procedure. Respirators should be taken apart and washed in mild soap and lukewarm water at the end of the day. All parts are thoroughly rinsed after washing and allowed to air dry before being put back together. Sanitize the respirator according to manufacturer’s instructions or use an alcohol wipe. Store dry clean respirators in sealed plastic bags to keep the chemicals and dust away from it. Hang the bag in a safe place. Don’t place a respirator in a tool box or other cramped area where it may become crushed and permanently deformed.