There are two main types of gas masks or respirators that you can use in the workplace, each of which has a proper use and situation. Disposable masks are made for dust protection and are generally a single-use product, they are put on when needed for just a short amount of time and are then thrown out. Reusable gas masks are used with disposable filters and cartridges depending on the job you are doing and can be reused for as long as they are in proper working order.
When should I use a Dust Mask?
Dust masks are a light use and disposable option. They fit around your nose and mouth to protect you from dust, airborne particles, and non-hazardous materials. These masks will not protect you from any toxic or hazardous gases, vapors, or materials, and they should not be a primary PPE in these circumstances. Typical uses for dust masks are sweeping, dusting, cleaning, mowing lawns, or sanding wood. A respirator should be used with the appropriate filter or cartridge when dealing with any dangerous substance
What is a respirator used for?
Respirators are a reusable mask that you can put specific filters and cartridges on to protect yourself from harmful toxins, vapors, or gases. These gas masks can be half faces and cover your mouth and nose, or full-faced and cover your eyes as well. These respirators provide breathing protection by creating a tight fit or seal around your face, this makes your breath go through the attached filters, which will catch the harmful toxins in the air.
Filter vs Cartridge
Filters have the same basic function of dust masks but are able to be attached to reusable respirators. The filters are also able to filter out nuisance levels of toxic or harmful gases and vapors but note that it will only filter out very small amounts of these gases and vapors for short periods of time only.
Cartridges provide higher levels of protection from gases and vapors and can be used to protect you in situations with higher levels of toxic or harmful gases and vapors. There are also a wide variety of cartridges for every possible situation or industry, from acid gas, organic vapor, or even mercury exposure.
Another note to keep in mind is the use of particle prefilters that can be put on top of cartridges, which will give you more use time out of cartridge filters. Each filter and cartridge should be used in the proper situation and should be changed based on the need you have.
How long do Gas Masks last?
Disposable gas masks are a one-time use product and should be disposed of after you finish the job you put it on for, or as soon as you can smell the material you are trying to keep out.
Filters are designed for particle filtration on a reusable gas mask and should be changed once you can smell the material you are trying to keep out if you notice it is becoming more difficult to breathe, the filter is visibly dirty, 40 hours of use, or every thirty days. Whichever comes first.
Cartridges are designed to capture smaller particles, down to the gas and vapor level. The cartridge should be disposed of after the maximum use time of 6 months, if you notice it has become hard to breathe, or if the shelf life has passed. If you can smell or taste the material through the mask, stop use immediately.
How to Properly fit a Gas Mask?
Disposable masks are usually one size fits all package, but reusable gas masks will come in variable sizes and can vary from brand to brand. A certified Fit Testing session should be had with the mask you are planning on using. This will ensure a proper seal around your face, providing full coverage and protection from the harmful gases and vapors you are working around.
In order to receive a certificate, the participant must be able to successfully pass the administered taste test requiring the candidates to demonstrate how to properly don/doff the mask, do seal checks, and how to complete general care and maintenance of the respirator.
A candidate is fit tested to a particular make and model of respirator. If the employer changes respirators a new fit test must be done. The Ontario Ministry of Labour also requires you must be re-certified for respirator mask fit testing every 2 years.
If you would like more information on any of the topics above, check out the links below.
Reusable Respirator Fit Testing Session
Health and Safety Awareness For Workers and Supervisors Online Course
Joint Health and Safety Committee Training