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The Safety Brief In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews
and insights into how contractors and safety managers
can be even more effective in protecting their workers.
In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews and insights into how contractors and safety managers can be even more effective in protecting their workers.

Respirator Safety Basics

Respirator safety increases if you know the basics. Here we talk about both types, air purifying and atmosphere supplying.

Respirators don’t filter out everything. Some are designed for dust, others chemicals, still others for biological agents.

Air purifying respirators come in three subcategories. Some are disposable or reusable. Others are powered and push breathable air to the user.

Atmosphere supplying respirators are used in facilities with impossibly bad industrial hygiene. The supply air through a supply hose, or dedicated tanks on the user.

Scroll to the end for a video on respirator types.


intro music and effects

Mystery voice: (breathing sound) “Luke. You’re not wearing your PPE.”

Dan Clark: Okay, respirators can make you sound like Darth Vader, but can save your life.

Hello, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.

There are so many things floating around a workplace. It could be dust, chemical gases or infectious agents. Understanding which respirator to use, and how and when to use it will keep you safe.


A respirator is not just something worn by those guys on Breaking Bad. It’s a useful thing that covers at least the nose and mouth to keep bad stuff from getting in the lungs. Respirators are often designed for specific contaminants. They do not filter out every dangerous thing.

There are two types of respirators:

#1. AIR PURIFYING – They filter particles like dust, and chemical gases and vapors, and there are three different kinds.

  • The filtering facepiece respirators. They look like surgical masks. They cover the mouth and nose, and they’re typically used to filter dust, and they’re tossed after one use. They’re sometimes called N95 respirators because they are NIOSH certified to filter 95% of particles.
  • Elastomeric facepiece respirators. They’re reusable and use cartridges to filter specific contaminants. Full face and half face styles.
  • Powered air purifying respirators. A battery-powered blower filters the air making it easier to breathe.

Now let’s look at the other type of respirator category:

#2. ATMOSPHERE SUPPLYING – These give you air from another source and can be used in workplaces with low oxygen levels too, not just places where air is contaminated. There are two kinds:

  • Air line respirators. They supply air from a different location through a hose.
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus. These have portable air tanks that provide clean air.

Now we know the types, let’s talk about strapping on the respirator. Workers will not need to select their own. For good respirator safety, employers are required to select the right protection and instruct workers on how, and when, and where to use it.

The daily respirator safety checklist includes:

- Look for leaks. You should do this whenever you put on the mask.

- Maintenance. Clean and disinfect respirators after every use. Replace old parts and store them according to company policy.

Occasional respirator safety checklist:

– Fit testing should be done once a year. This is a formal fitting where a machine tests for leaks. Optionally, the user can do a self test where he or she can smell a gas released outside the mask. These are only required for respirators with tight fitting masks.

– A medical exam should be performed before an employee is cleared for respirator use. Consider heart and lung conditions, and claustrophobia.

That’s it for this episode on Respirator Safety Basics. Come back for more tips and techniques on how to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, sponsored by Creative Safety Supply. See the website at


See the OSHA video on respirator types:

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