Introduction to Respiratory Protection, Pt. 2

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Yesterday we started talking about the range of respiratory protection products we carry here at Enviro. We covered our disposable respirator masks and the reusable face masks with replaceable filters. Today we’re looking at the next tier of protective equipment, engineered by the top innovators in the industry for the most demanding situations.

Powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) provide some of the most sophisticated respiratory protection out there, seeming more like the suits the scientists in Stranger Things wear when they interact with the Upside Down than something a normal worker would wear at their day job. But there are jobs out there that have truly gruesome particles in the air that a more standard filter simply can’t handle. It calls for next-level technology, which the PAPR provides. Its central component is the motorized air purificiation unit that straps to the user’s body, which sucks the bad air in and funnels it through a tube into the face mask. There are different forms of facial protection for PAPR systems, typically either a helmet that forms a seal around the face or a hood that covers the whole head. PAPRs are necessary for environments that have been deemed immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) by an expert from OSHA who inspects the space and determines what is needed to make it work-safe. If there are any changes to the environment that could affect contamination levels, a new test is done.

Another option is the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from Survivair. This isn’t as popular or convenient a product, so we only carry three types. SCBAs are for situations where the air is too dangerous to even be purified, such as in a firefight or during a deadly virus outbreak (they were popular during the Ebola crisis). Instead of sucking air through a purification system, SCBAs rely on canisters of pressurized air that is released into the mask over a particular period of time, depending on the demands of the job. If someone is in a situation that requires an SCBA, they are probably putting their life on the line for the sake of others. While it doesn’t seem particularly interesting or iconic, the SCBA is emblematic of the safety community’s dedication to braving some of life’s greatest perils, often with little reward in return.

Another important aspect of respiratory protection is fit testing. OSHA has very particular requirements and standards that any respirator must meet to be cleared for use in the field. A fit test determines this annually in a 15-20 minute process. The two types of fit tests are qualitative and quantitative, referring to how they measure the security of the respirator. The qualitative test is administered by releasing one of four approved test substances near the respirator. If the user can smell or taste the test substance, then it has penetrated the respirator and the test is failed. This test is usually performed on half-mask respirators. A quantitative test doesn’t rely on the user’s senses but uses an objective measuring device to determine the degree to which the respirator is compromised. It accomplishes this with either generated or ambient aerosol, and a sophisticated probe attached to the facepiece that sends information to the machine.

Respiratory protection is a rich field of innovative research and development, and we at Enviro do our best to stay on top of the industry and make sure you get only the best. Stay safe.

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