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Exploring Respiratory Protective Equipment

Published: 01st May 2012

It's 7am, my first week on the job as the newly designated safety guy for a fabrication shop. The lunch room is filled with 35 men, fatigued, overworked, and absolutely not interested in this whole new ‘safety programme’ the company is embarking on.

It's been a tough week getting any signs of interest or cooperation out of these guys including the supervisors. I'm an outsider with a white hard hat - I should have opted for a blue one; they think I'm a safety cop giving them orders. This morning I decided to give a ten minute talk on respiratory protection and add to it a bit of drama, just to get their attention.

A small selection of RPE is stuffed in my duffel bag. "Good morning guys, how you all doing?" I asked cheerfully and smiling. Blank stares. In the far back two guys are chit chatting about last night's game. "Today I want to talk about respiratory protection.

Did you know that according to OSHA, 63% of workers who wear respiratory protection actually wear it incorrectly, or wear the wrong type for the job?" I actually just made this up on the fly, the number sounded good and realistic. One guy picks up his newspaper and goes off into his own world. "Did you also know that one out of five of you here in this room, who require respiratory protection for the job you do, will actually acquire a respiratory illness like lung cancer, lung disease, silicosis, asbestosis or emphysema?" Now I got the attention of a couple of them. Again this is just information I pulled from thin air; I bet you would have believed it. Does it really matter if the statistic is one out of five, or six or seven? Would it make you think or feel any different? "I want to show you a selection of respiratory protection or RPE for short, their purpose and how to fit them on your face." I reached in the bag and pulled out "This is a dust mask.

You obviously know that but does anyone know what the N95 stands for?" No answers. Two guys look at each other and snicker. I feel they are mocking me. "Well the N stands for not resistant to oil and the 95 means it will filter at least 95% of airborne particles.

For your type of work I would use a dust mask when pushing a broom, or walking into a dusty environment for a short period of time. You probably also know that the fit isn't the greatest so there is a risk of contaminants entering through the openings between your face and the dust mask." I pulled the dust mask's two straps over my head, adjusted them, fit the face piece and squeezed the metal nose clip snug around the bridge of my nose. "Easy as that, I'm sure all of you have put one of these on, but I just wanted to quickly give you a demonstration." They look at me as if I'm a kindergarten teacher. "I need a volunteer to help me out with the next RPE." Half of the guys quickly stare straight down at the table in front of them. "Ok... How about you?" I said pointing at Chris, a young guy to my right only three months with the company, with ambitions of being a machinist. "Come right up here." He gets up shyly. "Ok, so what we have here is an air purifying half face respirator or half mask for short, and this one here is a full face respirator. This half mask is equipped with an organic vapour cartridge; notice the black labelling - it's colour coded according to NIOSH standards.

Plus we have fitted these white R95 pre-filters on the surface of the cartridge. The ‘R’ stands for medium resistant to oil and the 95 means it will filter 95% of the airborne particles; this filter's purpose is to block airborne particles like dust so they do not enter the organic vapour cartridge and then your nose. The organic vapour cartridge is designed to block volatile organic compounds.

An example in the shop would be if you were to do some spray painting or welding, these cartridges would protect you from the spray mist or the welding fumes to a certain degree. It's very important to read the labels and instruction guides that come with cartridges or filters to understand their purpose and limitations. "Now we will demonstrate a respirator fit test on Chris." Chris was scruffy this morning and had a bushy goatee, so he was the perfect person to demonstrate just how important it is to have a clean shaven face when wearing a respirator. "Chris, show us how you put on this half mask and then do your negative and positive test." Well, Chris did put on the respirator properly and fitted it snugly, but he did not know what a positive and negative test was.

I used my hands to demonstrate; Chris copied. Now, I should have done the demonstration with the cartridges off, because it is quite difficult to perform the negative test when you are struggling to seal the cartridges' large round surface with your hands. "We are now going to test the seal of the face piece. Notice Chris' facial hair - how many of you think his hair will be a problem?" A couple guys laughed. One shouted "Oh yeah, he'll learn quickly." I threw in some regulation info while getting the irritant smoke kit ready. "Work Safe BC regulations state that there must not be any obstruction between your face and the face seal of the respirator - this includes facial hair - and furthermore, it states that a person must be fit tested to wear a respirator. “We will get into the practice of doing a fit test each time you are issued a new respirator, when there are changes to the structure of your face and at least once per year. For those of you who wear prescription glasses and a full face mask, we will provide you with custom frame inserts filled with your prescription, so that you will have an effective face seal." The irritant smoke tube is ready for puffing. "We are going to use this irritant smoke to test the respirator's seal around Chris' face." Just looking at Chris' face you could see that it did not have a seal - clumps of hair were protruding from his chin. Several puffs of smoke around Chris' chin and he begins to cough and choke.

I continued puffing the smoke, redness flushed his face, tears dripped from his eyes, he jumped away coughing and ripped the mask from his face. "This irritant smoke is a great way to test your seal because as you can see, Chris is very uncomfortable; but what if Chris worked today with this respirator and all that hair and he was exposed to vapours that he couldn't smell or taste and slowly he was being poisoned? This is exactly how respiratory illness occurs; it's a long progressive poisoning of your lungs, your blood stream, your nervous system - it affects your entire body. “But what if Chris was exposed to a lethal atmosphere? We must always ensure that we are protected for the respiratory hazards we face. Thanks for your participation Chris." Ten minutes is up, the guys get up and leave just like school kids at the ring of the home time bell.

RPE topics for toolbox talks

Here is a list of suggestions for your next toolbox meetings:

• How to identify respiratory hazards and how to control the hazards

• Why respiratory protection is the last line of defence

• Make a list of activities in your workplace that require respiratory protection and show the workers the exact type of RPE for that particular activity

• Explain the protection factors for different types of respirators - use the NIOSH chart if you have one

• Face piece: inspection, cleaning, removal and reassembly of all the parts, donning, negative and positive pressure test

• SCBA: inspection, pressure test, alarm test, donning, doffing, changing the air cylinder, experience of wearing the mask while the air is cut off

• Fit test: use irritant smoke to perform a fit test on one person who is clean shaven and one person with facial hair

• Create a short quiz specific to RPE to understand the level of the workers' comprehension

• A review of common workplace respiratory illnesses like silicosis and asbestosis

Shocking discovery

I am doing my walk around adding notes to my long list of to-do's and must-do's. What do I see? From a distance I see a worker sweeping the floor around his work area and he is wearing a respirator: oh wow, hooray-hooray, good housekeeping and PPE! But wait a second - something doesn't look right. Is that a cigarette poking out of his P100 pancake filter? I approach him... Yes, yes it is. "Excuse me Jesse, why are you smoking in the shop? And why is it sticking out of your respirator?" To give you an image of Jesse: he is rough, tough, scary and his stare feels like a kick in the gut. Jesse snarls back: "Hey, can't you see I'm busy? I'm protected, I have my respirator on." I try to reason with Jesse as he continues to sweep and smoke. "Jesse, first of all, smoking in the shop is against the city bylaw and the OH&S regulation - it's a fire hazard. Second, you are contaminating other people with second hand smoke. And third, you just damaged your respirator - it's not providing you with the protection it was designed for." Well Jesse didn't care - he just ignored me and continued sweeping and smoking. I walked over to the manager's office to discuss the situation. "Tim, what is the norm here with workers and smoking?" Tim looks at me, already knowing who

I am talking about.

"Jesse, eh? Yeah, we just let him smoke - he doesn't do it all the time.” I don't like to be the safety cop type and I believe that leadership and discipline must start from the top. Top management, middle management and the supervisors must lead the way - if they don't, there is no way the safety programme will be successful. "Tim, you will have to decide the direction of the safety programme, what kind of culture you want to develop here and what values you want to instil in your workers." I would love to say that Tim took those words and right there took action to develop a world class health and safety programme, the workforce embraced it and Jesse along with his co-workers became top notch ambassadors of workplace health and safety. Well, here is the realism: it takes persistence, dedication, leadership and respect.

As a safety person your efforts will be beaten and knocked down from time to time but you have to move forward, take the hits and always lead the way as the example of what the health and safety programme is supposed to represent.

Tips for safety people

• Focus on building a positive, respectful and leadership attitude for yourself first

• Take classes or workshops to practice public speaking; for example, join a Toastmasters group

• Create a personal mission statement

• Create a list of your core values and guiding principles

• Be compassionate

• Do not engage in an argument - ask the person to help you with achieving the overall mission for the organisation

• Engage the workers to participate with developing the organisation's core values and guiding principles

• Ask the workers how ‘we’ can be the leading company in the industry - create a list of actions to accomplish this Words and phrases are extremely important - choose empowering ones. Examples include: • Replace ‘frustrated’ and ‘stressed’ with ‘fascinated’ and ‘intrigued’

• Replace ‘difficult’, ‘hard’ and ‘impossible’ with ‘an opportunity for improvement’

• Replace ‘what's wrong’? with ‘what do we need to do’? and ‘how do we solve this’?

PPE the first line of defence

What I have noticed in many workplaces and from reading articles of incidents and accidents, is that many employers look at using PPE as the first line of defence instead of the last line of defence. Reasons are: PPE is cheap, it takes less time to put in place, it requires minimum instruction, ‘nothing has happened before’ and ‘that's the way we've always done it’. Even worse, many times when PPE is used as the only control measure, the wrong type of PPE is provided.

Here are some examples:

• Wearing a dust mask where an APR is required

• Fitting an APR with the wrong/ineffective filters for the present or potential hazards

• Wearing a respirator in an oxygen deficient atmosphere

• Using supplied breathing air and the source is coming from unfiltered utility air, example is an air compressor


Once you have gone through the steps of assessing the hazards, eliminating the hazards, engineered control measures and administered control measures it is time to look at RPE as the final line of defence. RPE can be incorporated into your PPE programme or as a stand-alone programme; here are some essential items:

• A RPE policy

• Procedures to ensure the correct RPE is supplied and issued

• Instruction and training on each piece of RPE (selection, usage, maintenance, service and storage)

• RPE inspection programme

• RPE preventative maintenance programme

• Incentive/rewards programme for compliance with the RPE/PPE policy

• A discipline policy for violators Standards ANSI: Z88 Respirator Package [] ANSI: 110-2009 American National Standard for Air-Purifying Respiratory Protective Smoke Escape Device [] CEN: EN 529:2005 Respiratory Protective Devices [] CSA: Z94.4-11 Selection, Use & Care of Respirators [,6,shop, publications,ohs, emergency preparedness, respiratoryprotection] CSA: Z180.1-00 (R2010) Compressed Breathing Air & Systems [,6,shop,publications,ohs,emergencypreparedness,respiratoryprotection] ISO: 13.340.30 Respiratory Protective Devices [] NIOSH: Respirator Selection Logic 2004 [] NFPA: 1852: Standard on Selection, Care and Maintenance of Open Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) 2008 Edition [ RecordDetail.aspx?sku=NFPA+1852-2008] NFPA: 1984: Standard on Respirators for Wildland Fire Fighting Operations 2011 Edition [] Regulations Canada - Alberta: Occupational Health and Safety Code 2009 [] Canada - British Columbia: Occupational Health and Safety Regulation [] United States - Occupational Safety & Health Administration - Standard 1910.134 Respiratory Protection [] United Kingdom - Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 []

Published: 01st May 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East

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