Understanding the Proper Usage and Limitations of Cartridge-Type Respirators

A half-mask cartridge-type respirator is the most common type used for protection against solvent vapors.  Many workers believe their respirator is working properly, when in reality it may not be.  You could have the wrong kind of respirator for the task at hand, wrong kind of filter cartridges, leakage and fit problems, or worn-out filter cartridges. Also, keep in mind that filter cartridge respirators just don’t protect you from the vapors produced by all chemicals.

Try to Use Ventilation Where Possible Instead of Relying on Respirators

Ideally your workplace should make full use of fans and local exhaust ventilation to make the air safe, if possible. Make full use of the ventilation you have. Also, never enter a confined space that has not been tested for oxygen content with a cartridge respirator.  Oxygen content must be at least 19.5% to use these types of respirators.

Use the Right Kind of Respirator

Dust masks, surgical masks, and handkerchiefs do NOT protect at all against solvent vapors. Don’t automatically choose an organic vapor (“OV”) filter cartridge respirator. A respirator must be right for the kinds of solvents you use, the amount of vapor in the air, and your work situation.

Make Sure Your Respirator Fits Properly

Any respirator will leak between the mask and face, unless it is fitted right. You must be individually “fit tested” by a trained person when you receive your respirator. There are various mask sizes and shapes. Masks can be “full face” (over the eyes, nose and mouth) or “half face” (nose and mouth only). Facial hair under the sealing edge allows vapor to leak into the mask.

Before Using Your Respirator:

· Look it over. Before you put it on, check it for cracks, damage, or loose parts.

· Check the fit. After you put it on, check the fit yourself. For respirators with masks that seal to the face, do “positive pressure” and “negative pressure” fit tests. These tests are done with the respirator on; block the valves, then exhale and inhale, checking for leaks.

· Clean it up. After use, clean the respirator, if necessary, using soap and water.

· Protect it. Store it in a sealed plastic bag to protect it from dirt and vapors. Protect it from crushing which could deform the shape of the facemask.

Do Not Use Filter Cartridge Respirators with All Solvents

Solvents with poor odor warning ability, such as Freon, carbon tetrachloride and methylene chloride, are not safe to use with filter respirators.You need an odor to warn you at the end of cartridge life or if the respirator leaks.  You should know both the type and concentrations of contaminants in the air of your workplace.

Replace Cartridge Filters Often

Filters may last for a few minutes or a few days of use, depending on the situation. Old filters let vapors leak through. Exit your work area and replace the filters immediately whenever you smell leakage into the mask; you should never be able to smell the chemicals at all when you’re wearing the respirator.

Cartridge-type respirators are safe to use provided you understand their limitations and know how to use them properly.

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