Worker safety is a top priority for all companies. Keeping workers safe includes protecting them from exposure to airborne contaminants like gasses, vapors and particulates.

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is essential for providing workers with purified or filtered breathing air.

Enviro Urgence describes the different types of RPE. Learn about applicable safety standards and how to use equipment properly, and help maximize worker safety in your company.


Different types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE)

The main goal of RPE is to protect workers from inhaling hazardous materials. There are several types of equipment available, and choosing the right one will depend on workers’ needs and your company’s sector of activity. From supplied air respirators to self-contained breathing apparatus – here is what characterizes each type of respiratory protective equipment.

Atmosphere supplying respirators 

Atmosphere supplying respirators are generally used in environments with a high concentration of airborne contaminants. There are two types of atmosphere supplying respirators: supplied air respirators (SARs) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs). Both provide pure filtered breathing air. 

Supplied air respirators (SARs)

Supplied air respirators provide clean air from an outside source. Air is delivered directly to the respirator through a hose or duct. The air can come from a cylinder, an air pump or a compressor. The air being supplied must be clean and meet CSA Z180.1-00 standards.

SARs make it possible for workers to breathe clean, fresh air, even in highly polluted environments.

This type of respirator is often used in auto body shops while painting and sandblasting. Various types of facepieces are available, including the half-mask, full-mask, hood and visor-shielded helmet varieties.

It is important to make sure that SARs do not cut off the air supply to the facepiece when operating in pressure-demand mode. Both positive pressure and continuous flow modes are allowed.

Self-contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

A self-contained breathing apparatus provides breathable air to the person who wears it. It can consist of:

● A compressed air breathing cylinder carried by the worker (open circuit device): mainly used for rescue and evacuation operations in mines

● Chemical oxygen generator (closed-circuit device): used by firefighters and for workers entering confined spaces such as manure bunkers.

These devices allow workers to function in environments with high or unknown concentrations of toxic gasses or hazardous household waste, or in oxygen-deficient environments.

SCBAs can be equipped with various facepieces, including a full facepiece (APF = 10,000 for a positive-pressure SCBA) or a hermetic hood (APF = 10,000 for pressure-demand or other positive-pressure mode). 

Air scrubbers

Air scrubbers are used to clean contaminated air in the workplace. These RPAs use the force of the person’s breath, or a machine, to push air through a scrubber, which removes contaminants by capturing toxic gasses and vapors within a cartridge or filter.

Non-powered air-purifying respirators (APRs)

Air-purifying respirators, or masks, are the most common respirators used in the workplace. They rely on the force of a person’s inhalation to force contaminated air through the filter or scrubber of a mask. Their main uses can be divided as follows:

Reusable half masks can protect against dust, gas and vapors, depending on the type of mask.

● Full face masks, also reusable, can be equipped with cartridges or filters to protect against specific contaminants.

Powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs)

Powered air purifying respirators use a pump to draw air from the work environment and pass it through a scrubber. They are often found in use on asbestos removal sites. Several facepieces are available for these respirators:

● Half mask (APF = 50)

● Reusable full face mask (APF = 1000)

● Hood (APF = 25 for continuous flow respirators)

● Helmet with visor (APF = 25) 

It is important to change respirator cartridges regularly by following a schedule or using time calculation software. Ideally, cartridge change times should be documented as part of a respiratory protection program. Important reminder: do not wait for irritation or taste to alert you to the need to change a cartridge. 

How to choose respiratory protective equipment

When it comes to safety in the workplace, equipment needs to be high quality, effective and appropriate for the situation. For this reason, respiratory protection equipment is categorized using eligibility criteria so that workers always have the equipment they need.

1. Risk assessment

Before selecting a respirator, conduct a risk assessment to determine which hazards workers may be exposed to. This assessment should take into account workplace characteristics, tasks being performed, substances used and conditions under which workers are exposed to chemicals or mold.

2. Selecting the right device

After completing a risk assessment, select an appropriate respirator for the situation and environment. Remember to factor in the level of protection required, the type of contaminants present, working conditions, duration of use, compatibility with other personal protective equipment (PPE) and overall worker health and safety.

3. Face Fit Test and Facepieces Leak Test

Fit testing is crucial to ensure that the respirator fits the user and provides effective protection. Fit Tests and Leak Tests verify that equipment is tight enough. They also make it possible to make adjustments to ensure adequate protection. Fit Tests should be performed:

● Before using the device

● Anytime there are changes in the user's physical condition

● Every time the device is changed

Using and maintaining respiratory protective equipment

Workers must be trained in the proper use of RPE. Instructions for use should include steps for putting the RPE on and taking it off safely, procedures for doing Fit Tests and Leak Tests, precautions to take during use, and limitations of the RPE.

RPE should be maintained and inspected regularly to make sure it functions properly and provides optimum safety to users. Always follow manufacturer's instructions for cleaning, disinfecting and verifying functionality. RPE should be stored in a clean, dry location away from direct sunlight and excessive heat.

Remember to replace RPE parts regularly to be sure the equipment is working to its full capacity.

Respiratory protection standards: CSA Z94.4-11

The CSA Z94.4-11 standards require that any respirator worn by a worker be certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

To select an appropriate respirator, you will need to develop and implement a respiratory protection program that complies with these standards.

Employers are responsible for establishing a respiratory protection program for their employees and explaining to them how protective equipment works, how to use it and why they have to wear it.

A Fit Test must be performed on all respirators that require a tight seal, and must be repeated every 2 years. RPE must be provided free of charge by the employer. The health and safety committee must be involved in selecting the most appropriate RPE for the job.

Keep your workspaces safe with Enviro Urgence

Respiratory protection equipment is vital to the health and safety of workers at risk of being exposed to airborne contaminants.

At Enviro Urgence, we specialize in industrial cleaning and workplace safety. We help you manage contaminated soils and hazardous materials so that you can keep your workers safe and preserve the environment. Contact us now to learn more about our services.