Powering up respiratory protection with modern PAPR technology
The dangers of inhaling silica dust in the construction and building sectors are very real — and the associated serious diseases are preventable.
If dust is visible, then silica will be in the air that workers are breathing. High-level respiratory protection strengthens the margin of safety for silica and is a worker’s personal line of defence. Powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) in particular offer a high level of respiratory protection that covers the range of dust levels and exposure times.
When considering exposure risks from silica, there is now modern PAPR technology designed for the construction and building sectors that meets or exceeds compliance requirements.
Protecting against silica
Silica dust is the number one cause of workplace lung cancer and irreversible silicosis. In the construction and building industry, silica is present in a high percentage of common, everyday materials.
Respiratory protection equipment (RPE) is not protective if systems cannot be adopted or used currently. Modern light PAPR systems, with no hoses or belts, are practical and high protection, enabling workplaces to reliably replace disposable negative pressure masks.
In many workplaces and tasks, exposure to contaminants cannot be managed by engineering controls. Examples include tasks undertaken offsite, or where workers must be located close to the source (for instance, hard rock cutting and grinding).
Negative pressure masks, such as FFP2/N95 or elastomeric masks, although simple, have serious disadvantages and risks. Negative pressure masks rely on a tight and effective mask seal on the face. Talking, bending, unique face shape and stubble are all known to challenge the mask seal. Add to this improper donning — or worker non-compliance due to fogging, heat and moisture — and there are too many uncontrollable events for a worker or employer to manage.
When considering respiratory protection, review the range of modern PAPRs with no belts or hoses
PAPRs provide powered airflow for positive mask pressure — which eliminates the reliance on mask seal — and are certified with high (above 99.97%) filtration efficiency (HEPA). This type of PPE provides high protection and comfort. Traditional PAPRs are associated with heavy belt-mounted battery packs and hoses, requiring complex assembly and donning — and are not accessible for short jobs or on the road.
Advances in PAPR technology have produced a range of lightweight, compact and simplified systems — all designed to enable ease of use and ready access in the workplace. Through miniaturisation and air pressure controls, modern PAPR devices control the mask positive pressure and respond in real time to changes (brought on by talking, bending etc) to overcome mask leak and prevent contaminated air entering the breathing zone. Advanced close-fitting PAPRs leave the body free of belts and hoses.
Lightweight (less than 500 g) and compact modern PAPRs have few parts, are easy to assemble/fit and are a practical/durable addition to workplace kit.
Unlike traditional heavy PAPRs, modern PAPRs are breath responsive, offer long run time (up to eight hours) and have few parts (power unit and mask). These systems are modular and can be fitted with either half- or full-face masks (with high-impact visor rating). They also have a range of particulate and gas filters.
Modern advanced PAPRs are:
- approved AS/NZS1716 — powered air and HEPA filters
- lightweight (500 g)
- compact, modular and few parts (power unit and mask)
- free from complex hoses or bulky belt packs
- durable with a minimum of two years’ warranty
- equipped to allow for fresh/cool airflow with no fogging; comfortable for long periods of wear.
Modern PAPR systems create a comfortable and effortless RPE experience and promote high compliance and worker protection.
Silica exposure, lung damage and silicosis are preventable — businesses should consider high-level protection to meet or exceed workplace compliance.
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