Respiratory Protection

Frequently Asked Questions


How do I know if I need a respirator?

OSHA requires the use of a respirator when fumes, particles or other hazardous substances present in ambient air reach a certain percentage (Permissable Exposure Level). Different hazards have different PELs and require different respirators. Your employer should have a Material Safety Data Sheet for every hazard that will specify what protection should be used.

What are the different types of respirators?

  • Disposable respirators filter a broad range of particles and contaminants. With no replacement parts to worry about, disposable respirators are an economical choice for mild or temporary hazards.
  • Half facepiece respirators cover the nose and mouth with a rubber or silicon seal, and offer more protection than disposable respirators. Most half face respirators are reusable, and require replacement filters, clips and valves as needed. Recommended for ongoing mild to moderate hazards.
  • Full facepiece respirators cover the entire face, including eyes, nose and mouth, protecting them from airborne particles and contaminants. Full facepiece respirators are reusable, and require replacement parts such as filters, clips and valves as needed. Recommended for moderate particulate hazards such as mold or asbestos removal.
  • Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR) use a small motor (worn on the worker) to push ambient air through filters and into an enclosed facemask. They can filter out gasses, vapors and particulates and are available in different styles. Recommended for long-term use, and requires replacement parts as necesary.
  • Supplied Air Respirators (SAR) compress and filter ambient air from a different room and push it through a hose to an enclosed facemask. The motor can be up to 100 feet away from the worker, depending on the length of the hose. Recommended for use with highly toxic aerosols like spray paint containing isocyanate.
  • Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) units consist of an air tank, mask, regulator and backpack. SCBA's are for Imminent Danger to Life and Health (IDLH) environments such as fire-fighting and hazardous materials cleanup.

  • What do the ratings mean?

    The first digit of a respirator rating is a letter that corresponds to its resistance to oil. The second and third digits are numbers that correspond to the percentage of particulates (at least 0.3 microns in diamter) that a respirator is capable of removing.

  • N - Not oil resistant
  • R - Reistant to oil
  • O - Oil proof
  • Number:
  • 95 - Filters out 95% of all particulates
  • 99 - Filters out 99% of all particulates
  • 100 - Filters out 99.97% of all particulates

  • How do I know if my respirator fits me properly?

    Respirator fit testing is recommended for all reuseable respirators, and is required by OSHA for all tight-fitting facepiece respirators. A comprehensive qualitative fit test is used to test the seal and fit of a respirator. Once the respirator is on, a hood is placed over the head, and a sensitivity solution (sweet or bitter) is sprayed into the hood. If the respirator fits properly, the wearer should not be able to smell or taste the solution. Workers should also test how the respirator stays on during various activities, such as turning the head from side to side, up and down and speaking. The respirator should remain sealed during all these activities.

    Care and Storage

    Respirators should be stored in a clean, dry place. Reusable respirators should be placed in a respirator storage bag, to prevent dust and debris from building up. After use, the face piece should be wiped clean. Alcohol wipes are recommended for use with rubber facepieces, and non-alcohol wipes are recommended for silicone respirators.

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