Everyone knows that when working directly with toxic chemicals or other hazardous materials, it is essential to wear proper respiratory protection. What most people don’t realize, however, is that in many different environments, this same type of protection is still a good idea. In many different work environments, there is often dust, vapors, mist, fumes, gas, and other unhealthy contaminants in the air around us. While these types of contaminants may not cause a serious reaction, or even lead to serious problems, they are still a significant safety concern.
The air we breathe can affect more than just the health of our lungs. It shouldn’t be surprising that poor air quality can cause everything from headaches to sore muscles, and just about anything else. We all breathe in the air all day long, so even fairly small amounts of a contaminant in the air can build up and cause problems.
Knowing the Risks
One of the first steps for overall respiratory safety is knowing what types of risks exist in a given area. For example, in many construction sites there is a high level of dust from cutting different types of wood. In addition to simply being an irritant when breathing it in, it could cause a variety of ailments due to the lumber being treated with chemicals. Those working in agriculture industries may find that they are being exposed to the pesticides that are sprayed on the plants to keep the bugs away.
Of course, every facility will have a different set of risks and hazards associated with it. Ideally, there should be a safety manager, or someone else, who is in charge of knowing what types of airborne contaminants exist. They can then figure out what potential risks these contaminants pose and make recommendations on what types of respiratory protection should be used.
Types of Respiratory Protection
There are many different types of respiratory protection out there, each with a different type of use. For some situations, a simple mask will be sufficient to keep the contaminants out. Others, however, will need advanced protection that can actively filter the air as you breathe. Matching up the right type of protection with the risks that are present in the workplace will help keep everyone safe, without having to invest more money in the protection than is necessary.
For dangerous chemicals and other risks that can be life threatening, a facility should provide an advanced air-supplying respirator. These advanced systems have the air supply included, so the individual wearing them won’t have to breath in any of the air in the surrounding environment. This is the safest option out there, but for many situations it is far more than is actually needed.
For less serious scenarios, the facility should provide either half-face or full-face respirators. These will purify the air that comes from the environment, so that it is pure when entering the individual using them. As the name implies, the half-face respirator only covers the mouth and nose and filters the contaminants when the person wearing it inhales. The full-face respirator, however, covers the full face, including the eyes. This is a great choice for airborne contaminants that may cause eye problems as well as lung issues.
Voluntary or Mandatory
Another thing to consider is whether the respiratory protection will be required of all employees, or if it is a voluntary system. For some situations when the air quality is so low that it can quickly cause problems, it should always be mandatory. In addition, for those people who work in an area where the air quality is always fairly low, it should be required. If, however, someone is just walking through an area from time to time, and the air isn’t too dirty, it can be made voluntary. The most important thing is to have the proper respiratory protection available to those who will use it.