Product Focus: Respiratory protection

Trends in ... respiratory protection

‘Strive for maximum safety’

An estimated 5 million workers are required to wear respirators in 1.3 million U.S. workplaces every year, in an effort to protect against “insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, and sprays,” OSHA states.

Here, respiratory protection industry insiders describe how crucial these safety devices are for workers.


Respiratory protection manufacturers are focusing on innovations in ergonomics, according to Anne Osbourn, industrial and utilities marketing manager for Cranberry Township, PA-based MSA. “Recent improvements of the back plate design for self-contained breathing apparatus increase stability, reduce snag hazards and improve the overall range of motion so that users can move more effortlessly,” Osbourn said. “These types of innovations can be seen in the facepiece as well, as increased field of views and lighter-weight masks are becoming increasingly important attributes to users who may be wearing respirators for extended periods of time.”

Technology also is playing a role. “Some products are getting much more sophisticated in terms of the electronics included on them, with SCBA offering built-in telemetry systems and PAPRs having features such as automatic filter type recognition,” said Tony Pickett, associate director of product management for Monroe, NC-based Scott Safety.

Avoiding misuse

Mixing and matching respirator components from separate manufacturers is “the most common misuse we see,” Nick Bozzuto and Eric Dietrich, product managers for respiratory protection at Cynthiana, KY-based Bullard, said in a joint email to Safety+Health. “The respiratory protection standard mandates that all respirator components must be from the same manufacturer, meaning that everything from the headtop to the point of attachment and the components must be approved to use together.”

To correct this issue, Bozzuto and Dietrich recommend that employers and safety professionals educate themselves on this issue and practice due diligence.

Another common problem is workers not wearing their respiratory protection. As always, comfort plays a large role in new respiratory protection technology.

“Manufacturers go through painstaking processes to ensure the respirator assemblies they manufacture provide workers with the maximum protection, while taking into consideration user comfort,” Bozzuto and Dietrich said.

Pickett notes that manufacturers promote worker compliance by making products that are easier to fit and that accommodate a wide range of workers. “Providing users with improved seal designs to enable better fit and help prevent leakage, coupled with simple ways of checking the fit of their half mask prior to each use, is a practical example of how we as manufacturers can provide features that can provide a real benefit to the users,” he said.

Facial hair and respirators

Issues can arise for workers who have facial hair and wear tight-fitting respirators, said Josie Larsen, market analysist for Royal Oak, MI-based RPB Safety LLC. “While it may be generally understood that facial hair voids the seal between the respirator and your face, few people realize just how little growth can break the seal – for some, the difference between a seal and no seal is just half a day.” Larsen notes that a broken seal means particulates can enter a respirator – “an issue that has come to the forefront with OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard.” To prevent this issue from occurring, Larsen recommends switching to a loose-fitting respirator “where a seal between the face and respirator is not required for complete respiratory protection.”

Keep in mind

A thorough understanding of your respiratory protection program is of the utmost importance, Osbourn said. “Each of the key elements within OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard requires careful consideration, and even if you have a current program in place, it doesn’t hurt to review it against the standard operating procedures governing the selection and use of respirators,” she said.

For employers, Larsen recommends going above and beyond in the name of safety. “Although the law largely takes care of this, I would recommend that you strive for maximum safety, not just meeting legal requirements, as any exposure to dangerous chemicals or injury can have a cumulative effect,” she said.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month:
Hearing protection

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