How do you know which safety products are right for you and your employees? It begins with the basic understanding that employees are more likely to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that is comfortable and fitting properly. In this series, 3M provides advice on what to consider.

3M Full Facepiece Respirator
Full Facepiece Respirator. Photo courtesy of 3M

Respirators matter more on the job than ever, and there’s no lack of choices; you can get a disposable cup style respirator or a half facepiece reusable respirator, one with activated carbon for odors or one strictly for particulates.

What’s appropriate for your work? Consider the hazard. And then factor in comfort, fit and compatibility with other personal protective equipment (PPE). Employees are more likely to wear PPE that’s comfortable and fits properly.

For the most part, a disposable respirator helps protect a worker from solid and liquid particulates (dusts and mists) in the air while a reusable respirator can help protect a worker from gases and/or vapors, in addition to airborne particulates.

An N95 respirator is one of the most common classification of disposable respirators used in the workplace. A disposable N95 particulate respirator is ideal for a typical construction-type job where there is a lot of nuisance dust from drywall sanding, sawing, and scraping because they are inexpensive, lightweight, and comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

Meanwhile, a half-facepiece reusable respirator with appropriate chemical cartridges is better suited for painting applications or renovation projects where you may be using chemicals or sprays that release gases or vapors.

3M Tekk Protection Paint Sanding Valved Respirator
Valved respirator for painting and sanding. Photo courtesy of 3M

Regardless of whether you are using a disposable or reusable respirator, remember that a proper fit and seal to the face is the most important factor for respirator effectiveness. A proper fit will help prevent contaminants from entering the respirator through gaps in the seal. That’s why it’s important for workers to be clean-shaven when using tight-fitting respirators.

When you get into mold abatement or lead abatement, which include more serious health hazards, there are additional personal protective equipment requirements and the various pieces of PPE have to fit together comfortably in these challenging work conditions. In this environment, a full facepiece respirator is often preferred to protect the eyes and face. A P100 high efficiency particulate filter is used for mold, lead, and asbestos abatement. A coverall is also part of the PPE ensemble, and not just to protect a person’s clothing, but to help keep the hazardous particulates from clinging to the worker’s skin or clothing and potentially transferring those hazards outside of the containment and contaminating other areas.