A respirator is an important piece of safety equipment in the workplace. Respirators are used to protect workers who are exposed to hazards in the air such as dust, mold, allergens, airborne chemicals, etc, and are considered mandatory under these specific hazardous circumstances.
These dangers may cause lung impairment, cancer, other diseases, or even death. In North America alone, an estimated five million workers are required to wear respirators in the workplace. Which is why choosing the proper protective breathing apparatus is essential for you and your workers’ safety.
Like any equipment, respirators need maintenance. Your face masks should always be in good working condition for them to be effective in keeping you safe. Proper cleaning and maintenance should be done regularly before and after use based on the manufacturer’s specifications. But even with a manufacturer’s instruction present, you also need to focus on four main aspects of respirator care that will help ensure your breathing apparatus will work every single time.
Respirators must be cleaned after every use as indicated by the manufacturer’s instructions or according to the following alternative procedure:
- Remove the cartridges, filters, canisters, or any other component that are not to be washed.
- Wash the respirator in warm water using a mild cleanser that contains a disinfecting agent.
- Thoroughly rinse the respirators in warm running water.
- Air dry the respirator or hand-dry with a clean, lint-free cloth.
- Reassemble the face piece and replace cartridges, filters, and canisters if necessary.
- Test the respirator to make sure all parts are working properly.
- Store the respirators properly in a sealed bag to keep off dusts and germs.
You can use non-alcoholic disposable wipes to clean your respirators in between uses during the workday, but respirators that are not individually assigned must be cleaned and sanitized before the next worker uses it.
Workers are responsible for inspecting their respirators before and after use in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The worker must check the:
- Condition of component parts
- Tightness of connections
- End-of-service-life indicator
- Shelf-life dates
- Proper functioning of alarms, regulators, and other warning systems or devices
Defective or non-functioning respirators must be identified and tagged as “Out of Service” and must be removed from service until repaired or replaced.
Repair and Test
Only qualified persons shall make repairs or adjustments to respirators. These trained personnel must only use the respirator manufacturer’s NIOSH-approved parts designed for the respirator. Any attempt to replace components, make adjustments or repairs outside of manufacturer’s recommendations should not be done. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) must be tested, adjusted, and/or repaired only by the manufacturer or a professional repair service. Defective breathing equipment must be removed from service immediately for repair or discard.
Storing respirators near pesticide, on a work bench, in an enclosed cab, or even on the dashboard of a truck is dangerous. Cartridges can absorb anything from smoke to engine exhaust and may not work effectively on the next use. After inspection, cleaning or repair, you must store respirators in a way that will:
- Protect them from dust, contamination, sunlight, extreme temperatures, chemicals , and other harmful conditions.
- Prevent the face piece and/or valves from becoming deformed
- Follow all storage precautions issued by the manufacturer
- Keep them accessible to the work area but not in a place where it can be easily contaminated or inaccessible during an emergency.
- Be easily identified by clearly labelling the respirator’s storage container as emergency equipment
Specialized respirators such as airline, SCBA or PAPR require additional inspection, maintenance and cleaning procedure. These equipment have a different respirator care checklist.
Wearing respirators is a good, simple solution that just works. However, a better one is keeping the workplace free from airborne hazards. With the proper breathing equipment, this can be easily achieved. Also, make sure that engineering and/or administrative controls are implemented. A comprehensive respiratory protection program will ensure that you and your workers are protected from any respiratory hazards that can occur in your workplace.
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