Avoid Contaminants in the Air: Develop a Respirator Program for Your Workers


When there are contaminants in the air, workers are at risk for respiratory hazards. Some of the airborne contaminants of concern include biological contaminants, dusts, mists, fumes, and gases, or oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), respirators should be used to protect against those contaminants if other hazard control methods aren’t effective. Some of those control methods include mechanical ventilation, enclosure or isolation of the process or work equipment, proper control and use of process equipment, and process modifications, including substation of less hazardous materials.

It’s helpful to have a written respirator program so employees know how to choose a respirator, if that is the desired manner in which they can protect themselves from contaminants.

If you’ve never created a written respirator program before, CCOHS offers this list of what such a program should contain:

  • Hazard identification and control
  • Exposure assessment
  • Respirator selection
  • Respirator fit-testing
  • Training program
  • Inspection and record keeping
  • Cleaning and sanitizing respirators
  • Repairing and maintaining respirators
  • Proper storage of respirators
  • Health surveillance
  • Standard operating procedures (available in written form)
  • Program evaluation

If you don’t already have one, develop your respiratory program today and encourage the proper use of this and all PPE (personal protective equipment) in your workplace.

Respirator Upkeep: A Little TLC Goes A Long Way

3M™ 6000 Series Respirators and Filters

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:

  1. Remove the cartridges, filters, canisters, or any other component that are not to be washed.
  2. Wash the respirator in warm water using a mild cleanser that contains a disinfecting agent.
  3. Thoroughly rinse the respirators in warm running water.
  4. Air dry the respirator or hand-dry with a clean, lint-free cloth.
  5. Reassemble the face piece and replace cartridges, filters, and canisters if necessary.
  6. Test the respirator to make sure all parts are working properly.
  7. 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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Respirators at Work

RespiratorsIt was the coughing and wheezing that alerted Marcel Lemire, a veteran of marathons and a hockey player, that something was wrong with his breathing. He was a 40-something healthy and active person who didn’t smoke but all of a sudden, his lungs were in trouble. His diagnosis? Occupational asthma. His personal story featured in The Lung Association’s website  illustrates just how serious work-related respiratory diseases are.

Each workplace is different and each one has its own set of occupational hazards such as respiratory health hazards. In Marcel Lemire’s case, his work at a dairy farm in Manitoba involved chemical mists sprayed on containers for sanitation. Without proper ventilation and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as respirators, he inadvertently and presumably inhaled some of these mists while working. After 17 years, it finally took a toll on his lungs.

Respiratory diseases caused by work-related hazards are preventable with proper PPE. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has a webpage dedicated to useful resources that underline the importance of respiratory PPE in the workplace.

Types of Respirators

Not all respirators are made equal. Different respirators are recommended for different jobs. While there are general purpose respirators and masks for a variety of work conditions, you have to be sure you are choosing the right respirator for your specific task and work site.

Escape Respirators – This type of respirator should only be used in case of emergency. It was designed to prevent exposure to harmful gasses and other dangerous chemical particulates. It is not recommended for prolonged use as it only provides protection for under an hour.

Particulate Respirators – These respirators are the most practical and safe option for workers. Particulate respirators are cost-efficient and can be used for extended periods. However, care must be observed in choosing the right filter for the expected particulates workers may be exposed to. Regular cleaning and replacing of filters are needed to keep the respirators in good working condition.Particulate Respirators

There are 3 main classes of respirators which are:

N Series (Non- Oil Resistant Filters) – Filters out oil-free particulates such as pollen, ordinary dust, oil-free aerosols, etc.

R Series (Oil-Resistant Filters) – R Series filters are designed to filter out airborne particles that may contain oil particles. Use a filter for up to 8 hours or 1 continuous shift only.

P Series (Oil-Proof Filters) – These are designed to reduce exposure to particulates including oil-based aerosols by 95% to 99.97%. While these filters can generally be used for more than one shift, you have to confirm the service life of the filter with the manufacturer.

All N, P, and R series come in ratings of 95, 99, and 100. The ratings indicate the filter efficiency from 95%, 99%, up to 99.97%.

Gas Masks – Gas masks with cartridges not only filter, they also purify the air that you breathe in. These special respirators are recommended when a worker is in need of higher level of protection from toxic gases, biohazards, and other hazards that are particularly dangerous to the health of the workers.

Air Purifying Respirators (APRs) – These supplied air respirators combine chemical cartridges with filters to protect you against specific types of airborne contaminants such as mercury vapours, organic vapours, acid gas and so on. A variation of this type of respirator is the PAPR or the Powered Air-Purifying Respirator.

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) – SCBA devices allow workers to work in oxygen-deficient environments such as underwater or underground. Fire fighters and other rescue workers use SCBA to enable them to enter burning buildings or confined spaces where dangerous fumes may be present.

Respirator Regulations

In the United States, regulations for testing, labelling, and use of respirators are strictly implemented by a variety of government agencies like NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and the CDC. Canadian standards for respiratory protection are outlined in CSA (Canadian Standard Association) Standard Z94.4-11. Each of the provinces may also have additional regulations to protect their workers.

Health and safety should never be taken for granted. If only the dairy farm where Marcel Lemire worked implemented reasonable safety precautions and provided PPE and better ventilation, he would not have suffered the loss of 26 percent of his lung capacity. His quality of life would not have been affected. Mr. Lemire would’ve completed his 20th or so marathon and still be playing hockey.



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