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Respirators and Masks: PPE Selection Guide

5/20/22 - Zoro Staff

The Importance of PPE in the Workplace

When it comes to working safely in a hazardous environment, respirators are among the most important pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for outfitting your team. In fact, OSHA standards require the use of respirators in environments where contaminated air can impact employee health. 

Before choosing a respirator, assess all workplace operations, processes, and environments for airborne contaminants. Identify the hazards and the concentrations of potentially harmful airborne contaminants. While actions such as ventilation and enclosure can help ensure safety from contaminants, respiratory protection will often be needed as well. In this buying guide, we'll explore the different types of respirators and the protection they can provide for you and your employees.

Your Guide to Respirator Materials, Types, and Uses

While respiratory protection is an important element of maintaining safety standards, the exact PPE you'll need depends on your industry and working environment. Here, we'll identify a few different types of respirators and explore their use in more detail.

Understanding Respirator Materials

From healthcare to firefighting to construction and painting, there are many different respirators available with different designs, features, and materials. Some of the most common materials used to create respirators are silicone, neoprene, and rubber. In general, rubber and neoprene are rigid, durable materials, while silicone is preferred for its comfort, flexibility, and ease in cleaning. 

Understanding Types of Respirators and Their Uses

Choosing the right respirator for your PPE needs will usually start with your industry and use, but you may also need to consider other factors as well, such as materials and comfort. The most common types of respirators used in workplaces are listed below. To help you make an informed decision, we've included detailed descriptions, industry uses, images, and links for purchasing. If you're still not sure which respirator you need or prefer, you can also browse our full selection of masks and respiratory protection products online.

Disposable Particulate Masks Half-Mask Respirators Full-Face Respirators
Disposable Particulate Mask Half-Mask Respirator Full-Face Respirator
Disposable particulate masks are generally the least expensive type of respiratory protection, but they also offer the least amount of protection. Designed mainly for protection from particulates, disposable particulate masks can also provide a measure of “nuisance” odor protection from chemicals and are available with optional features such as a face seal, exhalation valve, and nose clip.

Half-mask filtering respirators with mechanical or chemical cartridges are used to filter dust, mists, fumes, vapors, or gases. Available in three different types (disposable, reusable, and disposable/reusable), half-mask cartridge respirators should be fit-tested to ensure a proper seal.

Half-mask respirators will cover the nose and mouth. For additional protection, a full-face respirator will also cover the face and eyes.

Full-face filtering respirators with mechanical or chemical cartridges are used to filter dust, mists, fumes, vapors, or gases. Available in three different types (disposable, reusable, and disposable/reusable), full-face cartridge respirators should be fit-tested to ensure a proper seal.

A full-face respirator will cover the nose and mouth as well as the face and eyes for additional protection.

Industry best suited for: 

Construction, contracting, cleaning, and anyone working in dusty environments or with drywall, brick, fiberglass, etc.

Industry best suited for:

A variety of jobs that involve airborne gasses, such as engineering and painting

Industry best suited for:

A variety of jobs that involve airborne gasses, such as engineering and painting

Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) Supplied Air Respirator Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus
(SCBA Respirator)

Powered Air Purifying Respirator PAPR

Supplied Air Respirator Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus SCBA
Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) feature a loose-fitting, whole-head cover that doesn't require a fit test, and they can filter particulate or chemical fumes. PAPRs are designed to protect against harmful gasses, vapors, and particles when used with a cartridge or filter. With a blower powered by a rechargeable battery pack, they provide the user with filtered air to the hood assembly.

Supplied air respirators can use a half- or full-face mask, a loose-fitting hood, hard hat or welder’s shield assembly. However, this respirator requires the use of a filtered Class D breathing air supply and must be used with a dedicated air compressor specifically designed for the task. It must also be tethered to an air supply hose. These respirators are often lightweight and can supply clean, compressed air for long hours in the right environments.

A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) provides the greatest level of protection against highly toxic and unknown materials. Featuring a limited air supply that is carried by the user, SCBAs allow for greater mobility when working in hazardous environments. When empty, the air tanks must be refilled by a dedicated Class D air fill station or supplier. Can be either open or closed circuit.

Industry best suited for:

Healthcare/medical professionals, industrial settings, oil and gas

Industry best suited for:

Anyone working in oxygen-deficient environments or atmospheres immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) that N95s won't protect against

Industry best suited for:

Often used by firefighters; suitable in oxygen-deficient environments or atmospheres immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH)

Looking for replacement cartridges or filters for your existing respirator? Check out our selection of cartridges and filters

Conclusion

From airborne contaminants to deadly vapors, gasses, and smoke, the air we breathe in workplace environments can be a serious hazard—sometimes even a danger to one's life or health. In those cases, respirators are a particularly important form of PPE that, when used appropriately, can turn a dangerous environment into a relatively safe one. Zoro’s collection of respirators can help you and your employees confidently take on most hazardous environments you might encounter—during National Safety Month or any other time of the year. 

 

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Product Compliance and Suitability

The product statements contained in this guide are intended for general informational purposes only. Such product statements do not constitute a product recommendation or representation as to the appropriateness, accuracy, completeness, correctness, or currentness of the information provided. Information provided in this guide does not replace the use by you of any manufacturer instructions, technical product manual, or other professional resource or adviser available to you. Always read, understand, and follow all manufacturer instructions.