Within a contaminated environment, comfortably breathing clean, safe air is important for workers’ health and workplace morale. With this in mind we have designed a range of 3M™ Disposable Respirators using science to increase comfort, breathability and protection. In combination with ergonomic design, a wide range of technologies including the 3M Cool Flow™ Comfort Valve help to deliver comfortable protection with easier breathing and reduced heat build-up.
Selecting and specifying the appropriate respiratory protective equipment in a contaminated environment can seem daunting with so many factors to consider. These four steps can help you choose;
- Identify the hazard/s (Particulates and/or gas/vapour and/or Oxygen deficiency?)
- Assess the risk
- Select the right respirator/filter
- Fit Test - for comfort and fit.
To make sure that the respirator provides adequate protection, it must be worn during periods of exposure. Make sure that you choose a respirator that you can wear comfortably for your entire shift.
Selecting a respirator
When selecting a respirator, there are three main questions that must be answered to ensure protection for the worker:
Is it right for the contaminant and contaminant level?
Does it reduce exposure to the level required to protect the wearer’s health?
How do you make sure that the workers WEAR IT PROPERLY when they need to?
Other considerations for your workers are, Is it practical? Is it robust? Is it available? Communication requirements? How will it interact with other PPE? Is it comfortable? Does it fit?
Importance of Fit
A respirator can only provide adequate respiratory protection to the wearer when air passes through the filter and does not enter the wearer’s breathing zone via any other route. Air will take the path of least resistance, so if there isn’t a good face seal, some of the contaminated air will go through this path rather than through the respirator filter, and therefore reduce the protection.
Every wearer’s face is different in shape, size and features. Tight-fitting respirators are also available in a wide range of shapes, styles, materials and sizes. Unfortunately, there is no single tight-fitting respirator that can be expected to fit every possible wearer. Therefore, the fit of a respirator is personal, individual and unique to each wearer. The only way to know if a respirator can provide an adequate seal to a wearer is to fit test each respirator-wearer combination.
A fit test gives an assessment of how well the respirator fits the wearer. A fit test also helps with the assessment of the respirator’s comfort, compatibility with other PPE and overall suitability for the wearer, along with being an ideal training opportunity for the wearer on the correct fitting and use of the product.
Incorrectly fitted respirators may not achieve a reliable seal to the wearer’s face and may be uncomfortable, possibly leading to wearers not wearing the respirator during all periods of exposure.
There are many factors that affect the fit of tight-fitting respirators:
- Donning procedure: everything from putting the respirator on the right way up through to the correct position and tension adjustment of the headbands or proper formation of the noseclip (if fitted).
- Facial hair: look out for hair under the faceseal, beard growth/stubble, forward hairlines (full face masks) and big sideburns. Beards, moustaches, or even stubble interfere with the seal of a tight-fitting respirator. Wearers must be clean-shaven in any area of the face and neck where the respirator comes into contact with the face. This rule applies not only for the day of fit testing, but for any day when a tight-fitting respirator is worn in the workplace.
- Other contaminants: anything that can interfere with the seal to the face, includes hair, cosmetics, sweat, facial jewelry, foreign bodies within the mask and facial hair.
- Face shape and size: extremes of face size (length and width of face) as well as very angular or very round faces can cause issue with fit.
- Facial features: prominent facial features can also cause some issues such as cleft chins, scars on the face sealing area, depressions around the temple/cheekbones, unusual chin profiles (chiselled features), unusual nose shapes (very large or very flat).
What types of respirators need to be fit tested?
Across Australia and New Zealand, there is growing interest in fit testing and the implementation of fit testing as detailed in AS/NZS 1715 which specifies that fit testing is required for all tight-fitting masks (positive and negative pressure).
These include disposable facepiece respirators (disposable respirators, commonly referred to as ‘dust masks’), half-masks with filters and full-face masks with filters. Any tight-fitting facepiece that is connected to a powered or supplied air system must also be fit tested; this includes tight-fitting face masks used with PAPR, powered masks, breathable compressed air or self-contained breathing apparatus.
Loose fitting headtops connected to a PAPR blower do not require fit testing. AS/NZS 1715 and ISO 16975-3 recommend fit testing to be conducted annually.
For more information contact your 3M Representative or visit,
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