What is a respirator? Types of Respirators and Protection

Industrial Worker with Respirator

First of all, let us explain what a respirator is before talking about how it works and how it may be valuable to some professionals. A respirator is part of the personal protection equipment. It is a mandatory piece for employees operating in environments with dangerous vapours, dust, gases, microorganisms and other hazards in the air. Respirators have the task to filter those compounds and pollutants from the air before it gets into the lungs of the worker.

What does a respirator protect against?

Different pollutants, toxins, vapours gases, etc. need different types of respirators which could filtrate them well enough. On top of that, there are different respirators in design and function to serve best its wearers. We will mention a few of the most common types and what differs one from another.

Common types of respirators:

  • Surgical masks – Those are designed to stop splashes and splatters of fluids to come in contact with the face of the wearer, and to block any saliva droplets coming out of his mouth.
  • Test fit masks – because it is so important for the proper function of a respirator mask to completely block air from the outside leaking inside the mask, the fitment needs to be as tight as possible. That is why some test-fit masks are developed, to establish the best shape for the face of the wearer.
  • Escape respirators – this type of respirators is designed to protect citizens and personnel in case of biological or chemical attacks. They are mostly part of a full suite.
  • Air-purifying respirators – those have some form of filtration system other than the cloth of the mask itself. They are designed to clear air from pollutants after passing it through some sort of filter, mechanical or chemical. Mechanical filters would be most used for stopping solid pollutants in dust respirators, while different chemical filters fight off toxic gases, vapours and fumes in welding respirator masks and spray paint respirator masks.
  • Reusable – Those respirators could be washed and sanitized and used again. Some models have replaceable filter cartridges that could be swapped when needed.
  • One time respirators – Surgical masks are falling in this category as well. This type of equipment is discarded right after it was worn.

  • Self-contained breathing air respirators – Those respirators have a different source of clean air, other than the surrounding environment. Instead of filtrating air, they supply it from a tank located either in the mask itself or on the back of the wearer.
  • Supplied air respirators – This type relies on clean air coming from a stationary source.

What are the three main types of respirators?

All of the types of respirators could be combined under three main categories.

  • Cloth respirators – With and without filters. Disposable variants fall in this category.
  • Air-purifying respirators – Those who work with the air in the environment to provide clean breathable air to the wearer.
  • Atmosphere-supplying respirators – those that supply the wearer with fresh air from a different environment.

What is the difference between a dust mask and a respirator?

Masks and respirators serve a different purpose. That is why there are some key differences between them that we will talk about now, so you can easily tell them apart and be sure to use the proper equipment for your needs.

First of all, masks usually fit loosely on the face of the wearer. The main purpose is to stop droplets of spit from the wearer to come in contact with others. They also provide a certain level of protection from liquids and large dust particles and debris from contacting the skin of the wearer or being inhaled by him. Scarfs could serve as dust masks in times of need. On the other hand, respirators fit firmly on the face, creating a seal. There are no gaps from which air can enter.

Dust masks don’t require approval from authorities. Respirators should be approved by the government and worldwide organisations.

What factors should you always consider when selecting a respirator?

You should consider the environment in which you will use the respirator. Are there any fumes or gases that might be present, or you need to worry about dust particles? If you are dealing with dust particles, it will be optimal to know their size. Is it from fresh or solid wood, is it from a construction material of some sort? It is important to know if there might be “fine dust” in your environment. All of the answers to those questions will help you select a category of respirators, from which you can choose the most cost-effective and effective option for your case.

If you will work in an environment with toxic fumes, gases and vapours, consider what kind of filters would be best for your situation. Go for options that have replaceable filters and make sure you always have some in stock.

Test fit the respirator, if you notice gaps, tighten the straps and test if that fixes the problem. If not, you should go for a different design that better fits your face type. It is important to have a steady seal between your face and the respirator.

When should you never use an air purifying respirator?

If you are dealing with a highly toxic contaminant, you shouldn’t use a respirator. Acquire a different type of protective equipment. Usually, the manufacturers of the compounds that you are working with put somewhere on the packaging, guidance towards the PPE needed. If not, try to contact them over the phone and ask.

Quite often the contaminant of the air is unknown. In such a case, wearing a respirator does not mean you are protected. Evacuate while proper measurements and tests are done and the cause of contamination is known. Only then, you can proceed to work with a respirator, if one is found suitable for use.

Each respirator has the information about which contaminants it filters, and what is its capacity. If the pollution of the air overruns the capacity of the respirator, it is futile to wear one, just leave the premises. Wearing a respirator will only limit your abilities further.

Some substances penetrate the human body through the skin, even when exposed to vapours. In such cases wearing just a respirator will not help, you need additional PPE.

When dealing with vapours, dust, fumes, gases and other hazards in the air, having adequate personal protection is of utmost importance, however, what provides the highest level of protection is also having an efficient extraction system.

Call us at 01455 616444 today and our experienced customer care representatives will give you more information about the extraction units and solutions we have in stock and work with you to create a tailored system to suit your needs.