Product Focus 2020 Respiratory Protection

Trends in ... respiratory protection

‘What is cost compared to a life?’

“Millions of workers are required to wear respirators in various workplaces throughout the United States,” OSHA states, adding that compliance with the Respiratory Protection Standard (1910.134) “could avert hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses annually.”

Here, respiratory protection industry insiders share their thoughts about what’s new in the field, how workers can best stay safe and what’s to come.


Design innovations in disposable respirators have come a long way and now include features such as adjustable cloth head straps that don’t pull workers’ hair, said Katie Mielcarek, marketing manager for Cleveland-based Gateway Safety Inc.

“P100-level respirators are notoriously big and bulky,” she said, “but newly developed, more compact designs are now available to help employers with compliance.”

Kurt Ivory, chief marketing officer for Royal Oak, MI-based RPB Safety, noted that supplied air respiratory systems have been revolutionized with heating and cooling features. “This is a huge benefit in high-heat environments, especially to reduce the risk of fatigue and overheating,” he said.

Ivory added that fully padded welding and grinding respirators designed with even weight distribution to alleviate pressure points are now available. “This gives the user greater comfort, allowing them to operate for longer periods without compromising their health,” he said.

A better understanding

Mielcarek pointed out that respiratory protection is one of the few personal protective equipment product categories regulated by a government agency (NIOSH).

“Due to that regulation, employers shouldn’t have to worry about quality comparisons – a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator has been tested and certified by NIOSH,” she said. “Employers should, however, check that their respirators have the NIOSH mark on them to ensure they are purchasing tested and certified products.” Mielcarek added that it’s important to note that dust masks aren’t tested by NIOSH.

Once a respiratory protection program is implemented, it needs to be routinely reevaluated, said Ralph Blessing, an occupational safety and health professor at Orange Beach, AL-based Columbia Southern University. “Anytime workplace changes result in new or altered exposures, a new assessment needs to be conducted,” he said. “Changes in the workplace could involve new equipment, processes, products, control measures or seasonal changes.”

Ivory also discussed mistakes workers make when using respiratory protection, such as wearing a tight-fitting mask over facial hair or wearing an uncomfortable respirator, which can result in strains to the neck, shoulders and back.

On the horizon

“In today’s world of technology, nothing is impossible,” Blessing said when asked about the future of respiratory protection.

He mentioned a number of recent innovations that he believes will soon become more common in the industry, such as thermal imaging cameras in the mask, the use of combined respiratory protection and a harness while ascending and descending a ladder, and a heads-up display on oxygen masks to monitor oxygen levels in self-contained breathing apparatuses.

“The concept of engineering out the hazard or removing the target are at the forefront of any safety program or response,” Blessing said. “Of course, with that comes a cost, but what is cost compared to a life?”

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month:

  • Hearing protection
  • Respiratory protection

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