2021 Respiratory protection

Trends in ... respiratory protection

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic quickly depleted stocks of disposable respirators of all kinds, most importantly NIOSH-approved N95s, said Claudio Dente, president of Dentec Safety Specialists Inc. Many respiratory manufacturers had to pivot to address the shortage, which spurred innovations in the area of respiratory protection. Here, experts who spoke with Safety+Health talk about those innovations, as well as what they wish workers better understood about respiratory protection.

Recent innovations

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against using a respirator with an exhalation valve to protect against COVID-19, Dente said. One solution: An elastomeric rubber formulation half mask that doesn’t have an exhalation valve. Rob Brauch, president of AccuTec-HIS Inc., gave other examples, including “an N95 which does not need straps to attach to the wearer, instead using an adhesive strip that forms the seal, and N95s with filter media shaped differently than the traditional ‘cup’ or ‘duckbill’ form factors.”

Better understanding

Jack Hartley, content specialist for RPB Safety, said one of the toughest challenges of respiratory protection is a reluctance to change. “This is brought about from a lack of understanding and the misconception that all PPE is uncomfortable and a hindrance to performance,” Hartley said. “In the past, this may have been true, but like most technology, over recent years, PPE has made leaps and bounds. Comfort has been the primary driver in this change, and this is something that we wish was common knowledge among people, so they would be less hesitant to make positive changes for their health and wear protection when they need it.”

Added Brauch: “Because there are so many new types of tight-fitting respirators coming online, it’s important to remember that a respirator fit test must be performed when issuing a new model or variant of any N95 respirator application. Employers and workers should be mindful of the fact that, per OSHA 1910.134, when substituting a different model respirator, the worker must be fit-tested again to comply with the requirements of a compliant respiratory protection program.”

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month:

  • Instruments/lone worker devices
  • Foot protection

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