Pregnant Women and Filtering Facepiece Respirators

According to the CDC half of the workforce are women. It stands to reason therefore that at some point pregnant women will end up working while using filtering facepiece respirators (what most people know as “dust masks”).


Many pregnant women have reported shortness of breathe which have raised concern about whether pregnant women should actually wear filtering facepiece respirators at all and whether doing so might actually be harming the fetus.

Are recent study found that “The effects of wearing an N95 FFR for one hour are similar for healthy pregnant and non-pregnant women. Wearing an N95 FFR for one hour by healthy pregnant women does not have an effect on the fetal heart rate.

Read the complete report on the CDC website at N95 Respirator Use During Pregnancy – Findings from Recent NIOSH Research.

Respirator Safety & Training Video

When was the last time you trained your workers on respiratory protection? If and when OSHA stops in and sees that your workers are using respirators you’re going to need to show documentation that shows that these workers have been properly trained in how to wear the respirator properly, how to clean it, how to store it, how to do a seal check, etc…

You could get a safety professional in to train everyone but there is a quicker and easier way to get the training. The Department of Labor has a video on Youtube that you can access and show to your workers that covers all the essentials of respirator safety.

Click on the video link below to access the video


Getting optimal performance from a PAPR depends on battery! (NIOSH)

From the NIOSH Website:

Getting optimal performance from a powered air‐purifying respirator (PAPR) depends on the condition of its battery!

The guidance in this fact sheet will help respiratory protection program administrators, managers, and powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) wearers understand the importance of a PAPR’s battery in assuring effective respiratory protection. The respiratory protection program administrator should assure that PAPR manufacturer recommendations for battery storage, care, usage, and disposal are addressed. However, an understanding of these requirements by managers and PAPR wearers is also beneficial to ensure personal protection.


Getting optimal performance from a powered air‐purifying respirator (PAPR) depends on the condition of its battery! Adobe PDF file [PDF – 248 KB]

Determining which type of respiratory protection is right

We get calls, almost on a daily basis, from customers wanting us to tell them what type of respirator they need. The call usually goes something like this:

National Safety Sales Rep (usually by the 2nd ring, never more than 3 rings, as that’s our promise): “Hello, National Safety, how may I help you?”

Customer: “Yes, I need help figuring out which respirator I need to wear”

National Safety Sales Rep: “Certainly. What are you trying to protect against?”

Customer names a chemical

National Safety Sales Rep: “Okay, what’s your concentration?”

Customer: “My what?”

National Safety Sales Rep: “Your concentration… how much of the chemical are you being exposed to?”

Customer: “I don’t know… not a whole lot!”

National Safety Sales Rep: “Okay, let’s come back to that question in a bit. How long are you exposed to it?”

Customer: “That depends, sometimes just a bit or time and sometimes a lot longer”

You get the idea. The point is that they often want a simple, quick answer to a complex and complicated question with a myriad for variables. Which type of respiratory protection you need depends on concentration, length of exposure, environmental issues and any number of other potential issues.

So rather than expecting your distributor to answer questions that they really can’t answer properly without all the information they’ll need, head instead to OSHA’s respiratory eTool online.

Answer a few basic questions (of course, you’ll need to have the answers… even OSHA isn’t going to recommend without the proper data), and it will let you know which type of respirator you need for your particular application.

Give it a shot, even if you are already pretty sure you’re using the right level of protection, can’t hurt to confirm and if you’re wrong it’s important to find that out!


Photo of 1936 Supplied Air Respirator


Oct. 15, 1936. Washington, D.C. “Protection against that dreaded disease Silicosis is assured underground workers with this new sand-blasting helmet developed by William P. Biggs, Safety Engineer of the Navy Department. Weighing only 43 ounces, the helmet has been tested for nearly a year in various naval stations throughout the country.” Harris & Ewing glass negative.

(taken from

9/11 Emergency Responders Suffering Asthma

According to a new article published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, “The majority of WTC-exposed fire department rescue workers experienced a substantial decline in airflow over the first 12 months post-9/11These conditions include irritant induced asthma, non-specific chronic bronchitis, aggravated pre-existing obstructive lung disease (asthma or COPD), and bronchiolitis.

The most common respiratory symptom was a severe cough. The complaint is so common, in fact, that it has been given the name of “World Trade Center Cough Syndrome”. While the cough seems to decrease with time, the shortness of breath remains. “These conditions, which became apparent up to several months after September 11, 2001, are now chronic and will require long-term treatment.”

It is believed that the cause of the pulmonary problems experienced by emergency responders is due in large part to the cement dust that was in the air after the collapse of the towers. Cement is highly alkaline and the body generally responds “less effectively to alkaline chemical injuries than to acidic chemical injuries, because of the limited buffering capacity of blood and body fluids for substances of high pH.”

You can read more about the different types of pulmonary problems and the projected long-term treatments that they may require in the Special issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine Volume 54, Issue 9, pages 649-660, September 2011 or you can read the article “The evolving spectrum of pulmonary disease in responders to the World Trade Center tragedy” online.

Tips for Proper Breathing when Wearing a Respirator

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.

  1. Make sure that you are using the correct cartridge with the correct NIOSH designation.
  2. 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).
  3. Make sure that the area you are working in is properly ventilated to eliminate as many of the contaminants as possible.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Always keep your respirator in its bag when it’s not in use. This includes breaks and lunches.
  10. 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.

6 Easy Steps to Establishing a Respiratory Program – Step 5

5. The Fit Test

Before anyone can start wearing a respirator, and after they’ve passed the medical evaluation, they need to be fit tested. A respirator that is the wrong size and that isn’t being worn correctly will allow contaminated air to pass through the face seal without going through the filters which means that the user will be inhaling the very stuff that he’s trying to protect himself against.

A fit test must be done by authorized and properly trained fit testers. Your safety supply distributor should be able to assist you in getting your personnel fit tested. The manufacturer of your respirator is also a potential source of help. While they won’t want to come out and fit test one or two workers every time you hire a new person, they should be willing to help you out if the number of workers to fit test is large enough. Additionally, the manufacturer should be able to help, while they are there, with the training which is step 6 and which we will be looking at tomorrow.

The best, and easiest way to get your people fit tested is to have your safety officer trained to do fit testing. Contact your safety supply distributor for help, they should be able and willing to help fit test and/or train your staff to do fit testing.

A fit test is a simple procedure that takes no more than 15 minutes or so (excluding the respirator training) and involves making sure that the user is putting the respirator on correctly, not wearing it too loose or too tight and that, when he moves around in what would be the normal movements of daily work, he or she will maintain the proper seal between the respirator and the skin around the mask.

There are two main types of fit tests:

  1. Quantative – This fit test uses a hood and an instrument to measure how much of the substance is getting into the respirator. While much more accurate, it requires a lot more equipment and because of this extra equipment ends up costing more.
  2. Qualatitve – This fit test uses one of several possible substances to see if the user is getting a proper seal. The substances are saccharin, banana oil, bitrex and irritant smoke. Saccharin, bitrex and banana oil rely exclusively on the honesty of the user in making sure that he lets the fit tester know when he is tasting either the sweet flavor of saccharin, the flavor of bananas or the bitter flavor of bitrex. Irritant smoke, which is by far the most commonly used from of qualitative fit testing involves a smoke that irritates the lungs if inhaled causing immediate coughing. The fit tester uses a little squeeze bulb attached to a tube of this irritant smoke and blows it around the seal of the facepiece while the user goes through a series of exercises and motions to make sure that the seal is tight.

For a sample of the fit test form, including all the movements and actions that the user has to perform while being fit tested download your free copy of my document “The Basics of Respiratory Protection.”

Tomorrow we will conclude this series with step 6, the training.

6 Easy Steps to Establishing a Respiratory Program – Step 4

4. The Medical Evaluation

A more recent development in the area of respiratory protection is the advent of the medical evaluation. Any and all workers who are doing to wear respirators need to get a medical evaluation done. This medical evaluation needs to be done before the worker can be fit tested (which is step 5).

The reasoning behind this step is that there are certain people for whom wearing a respirator might be potentially problematic. People with asthma for example might have increased difficulty breathing as a result of wearing a respirator. I can’t tell you the number of times people have come in to get fit tested and had to go away without having it done because they’ve skipped this step. We cannot and will not fit test anyone who hasn’t first been cleared medically; the liability should anything happen to the person we are fit testing is just too great.

In most cases, the medical evaluation is simple. Workers answer a number of questions. The form is then submitted to a “licensed healthcare professional” who then determines, based on those answers, whether or not the worker needs to have a full blown medical checkup before he or she can wear a respirator. Unless there is something obvious, most workers are simply cleared to wear a respirator without having to have a pulmonary test. If the questionnaire uncovers any areas of concern, the licensed healthcare professional will then order a more complete exam.

The medical evaluation is confidential. Employers are not allowed to look at the answers given by the employee. The employee simply fills in the questionnaire and seals it in an envelope to his place of employment who will send it in or he is instructed about where to submit it directly to the medical facility.

3M has the medical evaluation available to view or download on their website here.

Most doctors or medical facilities can sign off on the medical evaluation. 3M even has an online medical evaluation where employees can sit down at a computer and complete the form. 3M has a licensed healthcare professional who will look over the evaluation and sign off right then and there, making it easy and quick (as well as making it less expensive). There is a link to the 3M online medical evaluation available on our website ( in the respiratory section. If you’ve got several employees to get into respirators, this is a convenient way to get the medical evaluation done.

Tomorrow: Step 5 – The fit test