A respirator has only one basic function, namely to protect you against the “bad stuff” in the air around you, whatever that “bad stuff” might be. It can, however, fail unless certain steps and precautions are taken. A respirator that isn’t working properly can actually provide a false sense of security that can lead to more damage than no respirator at all. Here are a few tips to make sure that you are getting the proper usage from your respirator.
- Make sure that you are using the correct cartridge with the correct NIOSH designation.
- Make sure that your cartridges are being changed out regularly, based on a change out schedule (A change out schedule is based on the levels of contaminants in the air and lets you know when the cartridge will start to lose its effectiveness because it’ll start getting clogged).
- Make sure that the area you are working in is properly ventilated to eliminate as many of the contaminants as possible.
- Understand when the respirator needs to be worn. Anytime you might be exposed, you need to wear it. Think, for example about the time, prior to actually spraying finishes and paints. During stirring and mixing, vapors and fumes may still be present.
- Make sure you do a positive and negative pressure check fit each and every time you put on the respirator. Just because it passed last time doesn’t mean it’ll pass this time; you may have not quite seated it the same way.
- Make sure that you inspect your respirator for damages, rips and tears each and every time you put it on. Even tiny rips and pin holes can allow contaminants to bypass the cartridge, entering your system.
- Make sure that facial hair isn’t interfering with the seal. Any and all facial hair that falls along the seal line needs to be shaven.
- Make sure that you know the limitations of your respirator. A respirator is only one part of the total protection package. Many substances can be absorbed through the skin as well. Make sure you cover up properly to keep skin absorption from happening.
- Always keep your respirator in its bag when it’s not in use. This includes breaks and lunches.
- Clean you respirator regularly to remove contaminants. It isn’t a whole lot of good to have a dirty respirator sitting in a bag. All you’re doing is trapping the contaminants in the bag with the respirator.
People often mistakenly think that it is their lungs that they are protecting by wearing a respirator. Many of the contaminants you are protecting will not show up as respiratory problems. The lungs are often only the gateway to the rest of your body, including your kidneys, your liver and many other internal organs (hence the need to “total protection as mentioned in point #8 above). Proper protection is your first line of defense; understanding how to maximize it’s efficacy is crucial.