Sunday, March 24, 2013

Filtering Facepiece Respirator or Dust Mask. Which is it?

Well the answer to the question in the title is similar to you saying tomatoe or tomato.  They are two ways of saying the same thing.  According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) a dust mask is a filtering facepiece respirator.  For those involved in the safety and health field that is not news.  However, for everyone else it is.  In fact, we would argue that the average worker doesn't even consider the dust mask a respirator.  We recently ran into this miscommunication between an employer who was providing filtering facepiece respirators on a voluntary basis and assumed when the OSHA compliance safety and health officer was asking about respirators they were talking about the ones used in the paint booth.  Paint booth respirators were required, but the filtering facepiece respirators were not.  You could imagine the conversation.
Muster einer Atemluft-Einwegmaske
Muster einer Atemluft-Einwegmaske (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the consequence of such a miscommunication?  Well once you require the wearing of filtering facepiece respirators in the workplace, these respirators must follow all the requirements of 1910.134 the OSHA respiratory protection standard.  Which means the workers must be medically cleared to wear the respirator, fit tested with the respirator to ensure it fits, and trained on the use of the respirator.  However, if the filtering facepiece respirator is being used voluntarily, all you must provide is Appendix D of standard "Information for Employees Wearing Respirators When Not Required Under The Standard."  A big difference in requirements.  So be very careful when answering this question during an OSHA workplace inspection.

Another problem with dust masks is illustrated by the photo above in an article about Suffolk County's plan to spray pesticides.  What is wrong with the picture?  Well if this worker is spraying pesticides he is wearing the wrong respirator.  Filtering facepiece respirators (dust masks) only protect from dust or particulates.  They do not protect against chemicals that are in the form of mists, vapors, or gases (which is the form that the worker in the picture is spraying).  These forms of chemicals would penetrate through the mask or worse will be absorbed into the filter and potentially concentrate the chemical or allow the chewmical to sit on worker's face.
 
The only reason for wearing a filtering facepiece respirator (dust mask) is for nuisance dusts (i.e., wood dust, pollen, grass clippings, etc.).  Though this respirator is very comfortable, and lighweight, in our view, it is very dangerous because it is readily available, many people are using it improperly, and many people believe it can do more than it was designed to do.  Use this resapirator very carefully and again only for nuisance dusts, nothing more.  Be safe out there!
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