The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines 4 types of respirators:
Particulate respirators are the simplest and least expensive, but also least protective, type. They protect against particles in the air, but not gases or chemicals. They are classified with a letter to designate the type of particles that they protect against and a number to designate their efficiency. These respirators are designed for one-time use.
Chemical cartridge/gas mask respirators use a cartridge or filter to filter chemical gases out of the air. They include a facepiece and a cartridge. They are reusable and must be cleaned regularly. They also require the cartridge or filter to be changed when needed.
Powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR)use a fan to draw in air through the filter. They use the same type of cartridge as other air-purifying respirators. They also require a fully charged battery in order to work. Just like with the chemical cartridge respirators, these are reusable, though parts need to be replaced from time to time.
Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) use their own tank to supply air to the wearer. They offer the highest protection from greater concentrations of chemicals and from oxygen deficiency. Because of this, these respirators are used by firefighters. They are reusable as well and require specialized training before use.
Filters trap air particles as the wearer breathes in, protecting the wearer from particulates, but not gases or vapors. The most common type of filter is a “pancake filter,” which is round and flat. Filters receive the same letter and number combination that particulate respirators receive. N designates non-oil-based particles, while R means oil resistant, and R means oil-proof. The number is the filter efficiency rating. For example, N95 respirators protect against 95% of non-oil-based particles, while P100 filters protect against 99.9% of oil-based particles.
Cartridges absorb hazardous vapors from the air. There are two types of cartridges: gas and vapor cartridges and combination cartridges. Gas and vapor cartridges are designed to protect against a specific gas or vapor. Combination cartridges protect against particulates as well as gases and vapors.
Cartridges clean the air using their purifying agent, supplying the wearer with clean air when inhaled. Filters separate the hazardous debris from the breathable or non-lethal particulate matter. If you will be encountering hazardous gases or chemicals, you need a cartridge. If you will be encountering particles, you need a filter. If you are encountering both gases and particles, you need a combination cartridge, which protects against both.
Gas mask cartridges are color coded to designate the type of contaminant that they filter. Before you choose a filter, make sure you know what hazards you will be facing. Keep in mind that if there is a large concentration of a hazard in the air, the mask will not be able to completely protect you, even with the right cartridge. Here is the official chart from OSHA on cartridge color coding:
|Contaminant||Color Coding on Cartridge/Canister|
|hydrocyanic acid gas||White with 1/2-inch green stripe completely around the canister near the bottom|
|chlorine gas||White with 1/2-inch yellow stripe completely around the canister near the bottom|
|acid gases and ammonia gas||Green with 1/2-inch white stripe completely around the canister near the bottom|
|Acid gases and ammonia gas||Green with 1/2-inch white stripe completely around the canister near the bottom|
|Acid gases and organic vapors||Yellow|
|Hydrocyanic acid gas and chloropicrin vapor||Yellow with 1/2-inch blue stripe completely around the canister near the bottom|
|Acid gases, organic vapors, and ammonia gases||Brown|
|Radioactive materials, except tritium & noble gases||Purple (magenta)|
|Pesticides||Organic vapor canister plus a particulate filter|
|Multi-containment and CBRN agent||Olive|
|Any particulates - P100||Purple|
|Any particulates - P95, P99, R95, R99, R100||Orange|
|Any particulates free of oil - N95, N99, or N100||Teal|
Besides the filter and cartridge, there are many other parts to the respirator that you may need to replace. Half-facepiece respirators have inhalation and exhalation valves, a filter holder, and the facepiece body. In addition to these parts, full-facepiece respirators also have masks to protect the eyes. Both types of respirators have straps to hold it in place on the wearer’s head. If you wear glasses and need to wear a full-face respirator, you need to buy a glasses insert first. Some respirators also have a nose clip to help adjust it to the wearer’s face.
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