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Trends in respiratory protection

March 1, 2012

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Avoid a ‘deadly mistake’

By Tracy Haas, editorial assistant

When the air a worker breathes could kill him or her, there is no room for error regarding personal protective equipment. New technology in respiratory protection is generally focused on creating superior fits and seals for optimal protection, as well as better comfort for improved compliance, although high-tech gadgetry is making progress too. “Sophisticated control electronics are used more and more,” Lynn Feiner and Vicken Sarkissian said in a joint email. Feiner and Sarkissian are product line leaders, respiratory, for Morristown, NJ-based Honeywell Safety Products. “In powered air-purifying respirators, circuit boards can be used to manage flow rates,” they said. “Depending on the electronics used, setting and programming these PAPRs can provide low-flow and low-battery alarms, and adjust flows for use with loose-fitting hoods or tight-fitting facepieces.”

Grant Rowe (left), product line manager, respiratory protection, for Cynthiana, KY-based Bullard Co., acknowledges that PAPRs are becoming increasingly popular, and that “technology has advanced so that more customers are willing to invest in these higher-end products.” Examples of this technology, Rowe said, “include advanced flow control systems (some which compensate for high altitudes), lithium battery technology, and alarms for flow and battery (visual, audible and vibratory).”

Jeffrey S. Birkner, vice president of technical services for Culver City, CA-based Moldex-Metric Inc., said that “one new technology is the ability to manufacture filtering facepiece respirators, which have very low resistance, that do not require a valve.” Additionally, he said, “because the respirators are manufactured with pleats, they are more flexible and provide greater comfort and will conform to the face as the user makes natural movements.”

Technology involving better back support is a new focus with respiratory protection, said Marty Lorkowski (left), global marketing manager, industrial, at Monroe, NC-based Scott Safety. “Flexible [self-contained breathing apparatus] back frame systems are now available, which reduce weight of an SCBA and also allow the back frame to move with the worker, reducing pressure points and increasing comfort,” Lorkowski said. “Improving comfort will increase the workers’ willingness to wear the product when required and improve site compliance.”


Know the limits

Although respiratory protection can save lives when used properly, mistakes and misuse can occur – and severe consequences can result. It is important to carefully understand the type of equipment needed for a specific job, and how to properly use and inspect it.

Len Harrison, respiratory category specialist for Lenexa, KS-based U.S. Safety/Parmelee Industries Inc., warns that respirator systems have restrictions. “Battery-operated PAPR systems are often stretched to their limit or beyond, creating a dangerous situation for the user,” Harrison said. “Most modern systems have battery life warning systems, but these are sometimes dismissed by the user in order to finish a task. In an [immediately dangerous to life or health] environment, that can be a deadly mistake.”

As a way to deal with this issue, Harrison said that “some companies now require workers using PAPRs in an IDLH environment to carry an escape hood or other similar device as a backup.”

Feiner and Sarkissian pointed to low battery alarms as an example of misuse. If an alarm goes off, they recommend that a user exit immediately, not “try to squeeze an extra few minutes out.”

However, they know some workers push the limits of the equipment. “This would be like continuing to pass gas station after gas station despite the glowing low fuel light,” Feiner and Sarkissian said.

To avoid safety issues such as these, employers need to be proactive when selecting the proper equipment. Rowe recommends that workers have initial input into what kind of protection should be used. “This will build acceptance and buy-in, which are tremendous keys to the active transfer of knowledge,” Rowe said. “If the workers feel disenfranchised from the selection process, the workers may also be passive in the training process and miss critical details that could prevent incident or injury.”

Be prepared

A universal recommendation from these experts centered on fit testing. “Proper fit testing is vital, and be prepared to offer more than one brand or style of respirator in order to achieve a good fit for each and every person, especially if you have a diverse workforce,” Harrison said. Feiner and Sarkissian agreed. “Respirators come in shapes and sizes to accommodate the large variation of the face shape and size of users’ faces,” they said. “Careful selection and fit-testing of a respirator by model and size can yield good fit and proper face seal.”

Respiratory PPE offers extraordinary safety, but is not infallible. “One of the worst things that a worker can do is to believe that a product with great technology makes him/her invincible,” Rowe said. 

Coming next month…
Hearing protection

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